Ever face a situation and think of how you’ll maneuver your way through it? At a party, you might want to get a drink, but to get to the table full of drinks, in front of you are several people stopping you from that beer you want. So, you plan the best way to get there with the path of least resistance. What about during a particularly busy day at the grocery store. Okay, so this idea might not necessarily translate well in this case, but luckily as an assassin, the skill is intrinsically entwined.
Playing as a samurai, Katana Zero reminds me of Hotline Miami – another indie darling that set the world on fire. For starters, the gameplay is frenetic. With the power to manipulate time, planning your passage through a room is necessary. Diving into a situation isn’t recommended, death in Katana Zero unfolds differently than most games. Here, your nameless samurai contextualizes death as a rewind feature. It’s somewhat wall-breaking and even uses a similar effect to the VCR rewinding. Try again but this time, find a better solution. This is a video game about trial and error.
Action-packed and fast-paced, Katana Zero oozes style. Stopping time and deflecting a bullet back towards an enemy, using rolls to dodge lasers or move behind enemies, everything you do is to get to your target and kill them. Once you learn how the game actually works, you’re running through levels, throwing knives and bombs at enemies, sneaking past security checkpoints and out for blood.
Written in Blood
A surprise in many ways, Katana Zero piles on excellent gameplay with impressive writing. A strong narrative guides the gameplay in a roughly six-hour campaign that pushes the samurai through some uncomfortable scenarios. One of the things that stood out for me during my time with this game is the dialogue choices forcing split-second decisions which directly play into the gameplay.
And while those dialogue choices are great, things ramp up around the middle and deliver up until the end, but with the implication that a much larger tale is withheld for a potential sequel. Playing through the game again and picking the other dialogue choices felt superficial after having credits roll the first time. Hopefully, we’ll see either downloadable content with new story details before a full-blown sequel.
However, the scenarios sometimes are hilarious and worth exploring. One instance has our samurai invading a hotel. Here, the front desk asks why we’re dressed up like a samurai, to which several options explain why we’re there. Your character, however, lacks patience and at any moment you can press A and continue, or explain yourself the trouble and explain you’re here.
Being an assassin, you take on contracts a mysterious organization sends your way. The thing is though, you are heavily sedated by a drug in-game known as Chronos – and is the source of your time manipulation power. As you move along the narrative, more details come into focus and we learn of our character’s true origins.
Each stage is brilliant and enemy design is varied enough that things don’t feel repetitious. Every so often, a new enemy type is introduced, asking you to rethink your strategy. However, one hit means you’re sent back to the beginning of where you currently are.
Katana Zero is stylish in every aspect, so not only does it play well, but it looks and sounds good. Characters feature detailed pixel design and sprites pop on screen. The animation, the lighting and the backgrounds, all of the elevated by the love put into them. As for the music, it’s full of 80s synth and drives how important an appropriate soundtrack is in any title.
If you need a break from big budget AAA titles, Katana Zero is one impressive alternative. Engaging gameplay, time-controlling mechanics and a stellar soundtrack, this is one entertaining video game. Not only that but the neon-drenched clubs, the dingy apartments, and the dirty alleys leave you feeling down in a nasty world. Don’t let the short length deter you from playing either, there’s no padding in the story either, leaving any bloat to bigger titles. Katana Zero is a video game exuding confidence in what it brings, and that’s certifiably what I love about it.
[A copy of the game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.]