Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC via Steam, macOS
Genre: 2D twitch-action platformer, with a time-bending samurai and tons of death and attempts (sounds familiar…)
Katana Zero is what happens when you give Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice some acid and some speed, and tons of neon. It’s Super Meat Boy but with the supernatural ability to slow down time and deflect bullets. It’s Sonic the Hedgehog but with deeper plot and character interactions.
Just like Sekiro and Super Meat Boy, death means starting from the beginning of the stage, albeit without Dragonrot thankfully. But this offers you to switch your approach when dealing with the stage and enemies.
In the words of the samurai, failure is an opportunity to learn, because you’ll be failing, a lot.
Developed by Askiisoft, the game puts you in a neon playground through a 2D side-scrolling action game. You step into the shoes of Zero, a Samurai who has forgotten his past due to a traumatic accident. He’s an assassin tasked to kill anyone his employers tell him to.
The character has been treated with a time-altering drug, essentially giving him a bullet-time reaction, as well as multiple tries or resurrection. Fortunately, dying does not impose any penalties or anything.
Katana Zero sounds quite similar to a recent Shinobi game which has to deflect as its main mechanic, as well as resurrections and frustrations. Not to mention, the theme of death as a lesson in improving your playstyle. You can try as many times as you want, provided you haven’t raged quit, or thrown your device away.
Mr Slice Guy
If you’re familiar with the Castlevania, this is much like it with your standard platforming and combat in place. It’s simple, but the complexity of each stage adds depth to what is an already deep game.
The main challenge in Katana Zero is to figure out a way to progress through a level without getting hit. Enemies are fixed, so you can easily predict where they come next.
Sounds easy, until you realise that there’s no fixed enemy behaviour. One run, he’s staring you down, another run, he’s looking somewhere else, and that screws up your timing and muscle memory.
That, added with the fact that you can’t get hit by anything else the enemy has up their sleeves. A single hit means you’ll have to start the stage, running the gauntlet over again. Thankfully, restarts are limitless, only your patience is.
But hey, you can slow down time, so you can react and deflect bullets, and that’s about it. Nothing else. I’ve only used the slow-mo to deflect just a single enemy in my entire playthrough, nothing more.
In my brutally honest opinion, slow-mo feels like a gimmicky mechanic shoehorned into the game to pad up the purely simple gameplay.
With that said, performing rolls, dodging and deflecting bullets while slicing enemies still have that one truly satisfying feel, but slicing bosses is another feeling altogether.
Boss Fight Engaged
Like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, boss fights are a bittersweet treat.
As you enter a boss fight, expect to die and restart a number of times as you learn the big bad boy’s moveset. Once you’ve adapted enough, players will be able to overcome the challenge.
But let’s be honest here, I’m no pro but the bosses are a walk in the park compared to some of the later levels.
I admit that I died more times than I care, but once I’ve figured out that simple pattern, I’m no longer fighting the boss, the boss is fighting me.
A Plot Deeper Than Anthem
To be fair, even a rock has a better story than Anthem. Having said that, Katana Zero manages to check the ‘deep story’ box. This is where the game shines the brightest. The narrative is conveyed through interactive moments which happen between levels. Dialogues are broken down into options, and it connects you to the character, and eventually, you’ll empathize Zero’s struggles. It gives you a sense of control and purpose over your journey.
For example, the dialogue between Zero and his therapist gives you an option to interrupt abruptly or wait for a few seconds to see more dialogue options. So you can play as an asshole ronin or an honourable samurai. Whichever style of response you chose won’t affect the bigger picture, but it brings you closer to the character. A personal touch, if I may.
All these interactions take place in a gorgeous 2D pixel art kinda world, but everything has been animated to detail.
Each emotion is conveyed perfectly through the texts and facial expressions, despite adhering to the indie lo-fi style of art.
Such elements convey the message strongly, and creates an impactful experience. I totally did not expect that coming from an indie game like this, so that’s a huge tick I’m giving it there.
The game is peppered with powercore-synth music, quite reminiscent of FarCry 3 Blood Dragon’s theme. Each stage has its own song, and it is refreshing in this era of gaming, which is why I’m pretty interested in Metronomik’s No Straight Roads, but that’s another game for another day.
A Dark World
Katana Zero features a dystopian society peppered with real-life social problems. Depression, drug abuse, poverty, petty thefts, gangs. It’s all there as a grim reminder to what reality is. Sometimes, I need to take a step back and let my feeble mind take a break from the reflection of harsh reality.
Katana Zero is all doom and gloom. The story-heavy game is sometimes squandered by the darker tones of the game.
Some minor spoilers though: there will be a gory scene involving torture. I can’t remember much, probably because my mind is subconsciously repressing that dark scene. Just be warned about this as you step in.
As I Sheathe My Blade
Katana Zero is a fun game that tests your patience and rewards you with an interesting story. Sometimes I do run out of patience which then I step back and take a breather.
I’ll be honest, I rage-quitted a few times, but I came back with perseverance just to progress with the rich story it has to offer.
Katana Zero gets a huge stamp of recommendation from me. Go for it, and enjoy the game and its story-driven adventures.
- Deep yet dark story.
- Beautiful lo-fi graphics.
- Funky powercore-synth beats.
- Satisfaction in overcoming a wall.
- Great dialogue options.
- Unlimited tries.
- Cheesy slow-mo mechanics.
- Repetitive gameplay.
- Punishing difficulty.