After crawling out of bed in the dead of night I sat huddled around a warm cup of tea deciding what to do while the rest of the world slept (the UK at least). Most of the time when I review games, I make sure I’m well rested and in good fettle. However, I needed a distraction from the agony creeping up my legs and so I opted for the best divertissement I know. The folks at one of my favourite PR companies had just sent a review code for Katana Zero, a game I had only been made aware of a few weeks prior. I watched the short trailer to remind myself of why I had applied for a review code. So just by sheer accident, I ended up playing the entirety of Katana Zero, exhausted and high on painkillers: turns out this was somewhat consubstantial to the adventure the character in Katana Zero was about to have.
Groundhog Tastes like Chicken
The developers of Katana Zero (Askiisoft) describe their game as a neo-noir action platformer, which seems like a good starting point. You play the game as a sword-wielding assassin who also uses a time manipulation drug called Chronos. The use of this drug gives the game it’s biggest unique flavour because essentially you cannot be killed, well kind off. Any damage at all will kill you, whether it be a melee attack, bullet or explosion. However, the second you are snuffed out time will zip back and let you try again. In essence, you are replaying the same string of time until you survive that particular segment of the level, Phil Connors would be proud. At the end of each section you can watch a replay of your antics which is fun, but I do wish I could remove the VHS aesthetic and just watch the raw action.
Zero’s movement is fairly fluid with the ability to jump, wall jump and dodge. You eviscerate your enemies with a razor-sharp katana blade which can be aimed in any direction you push the thumbstick. As soon as this weapon of death makes contact a spray of pixilated blood coats nearby walls. Many of the foes to come across have ranged weapons and given your fragility, this may seem a little unfair. However, your biggest trick is the ability to slow down time, which allows you to actually hit bullets back at their owners. You only have a few seconds worth of this time slowing ability but it does regenerate; so use it sparingly. Enemies have crackerjack reflex’s, which means you need to be faster than a caffeinated cat on crank and if fast-paced games are not your cup of tea I would maybe give this one a miss. Like any good platform game, the secret sauce is level design and this game has this covered. Enemy placement, breakable floors, laser traps and even a mini rollercoaster: Katana Zero has plenty of diversity between the levels and never overuses one idea too much. There is even a cool bike chase section midway through the story, which cleverly still lets you use what you have learned from previous levels.
I love it when films (and also games) run to some kind of countdown mechanism. We see this in Donnie Darko, where the nearer you get to final scene the greater the anticipation of what is to come. As you play Katana Zero you will start to get into a familiar rhythm: collect a dossier from your ‘psychiatrist’, play through the job and then return to your run down apartment to sleep. Each night you slip into a vivid nightmare that seems to evolve over the coming nights. You also meet various characters which seem to know more than what they are letting on. While the dialogue isn’t groundbreaking, the way it is all put together does have a certain something. I won’t divulge any plot details, but save to say things start to get very strange the further you progress and the games final conclusion was surprisingly good.
All the games dialogue is handled with on-screen text and can be interrupted, which could have consequences. If you wait for the NPC to finish talking you can lead the conversation in various directions and it’s impressive how this mechanic is sometimes used in gameplay. On your first mission your target he jumps off a balcony to his death. On my second playthrough, I decided to use my time manipulation to reach him before he jumped and was happy to see that the news report on my TV later reflected this change.
I will say that Katana Zero has some very adult themes running through it including drugs, torture and buckets of extream violence. Interestingly the game has not been cleared for release in Australia in its current form, but then again the restrictions in Aussie land are notoriously tight. Just be aware of this if you have children anywhere near your rig while playing.
Is it PC?
Pixel Art game have always been a fascination of mine. I love how they went from a convention of necessity to a stylistic choice. These days we have some incredibly talented artists knocking around and I’m happy to say Katana is a joy to behold. There are just so many areas with incredible attention to detail from the steam coming off your tea to rain thruming against the roof of your apartment.
As for the sound effects, they all fit well with the stylistic visuals and get the job done. One very cool aspect of the music is that it starts when Subject Zero puts his walkman on and it stops when he takes it off. I really like games that bring this immersion into the experience with these little touches. As soon as you hit play the excellent sythwave soundtrack kicks off and makes the gratuitous killing all the more fun.
Essentially Katana Zero is split between two sections, the lightning fast combat and the stylistic story elements that fuse it all together. When I first saw the trailers for this title I wrongly assumed it was going to be a far more generic action game like Shinobi. However, as soon as you start to play the various levels you will see there is far more here than meets the eye. You can occasionally get stuck on an area but once you nail it the satisfaction is off the chain.
I have now played through the game three times and each takes between five to eight hours, depending on the old reflexes. If you are a fan of titles like Hotline Miami or just want to blow some steam off after a hard day in the office, this might be just the ticket. I can highly recommend you pick up Katana Zero as it is one of the best games I have played so far this year.
Thank you for reading my review of Katana Zero on PC. You can follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic for all my content updates.