Review | Katana Zero
Katana? I hardly knew her!
You arrive home after a hard days murderin’, sip your herbal tea while some positively delightful piano plays. You lie on your sofa-cum-bed and the TV news blasts out the days events. They discuss your kill count. It’s over 100. You fall asleep anyway. You wake up, and do it again.
That’s the general loop of Askiisoft’s Katana ZERO, but it’s so much more.
It’s hard to talk about it without sounding like a total shill. Even in the ridiculously busy Devolver Digital showroom at EGX Rezzed, I “got” Katana ZERO. Its gameplay was incredibly satisfying and inventive, and the synth-laden music was perfection. From just 10 minutes I was sold. When I finally got to play the whole game, I fell in love.
You play as an assassin, targeting a drug cartel in a post-war modern day dystopia. Your character is a still-young veteran from that war, and is dealing with some serious issues. He’s a recluse, only visiting his shrink, who then assigns him these missions. The game is surprisingly lore and dialogue dense, but the ingenious way the text formatting creates character without voice acting is gripping, and hilarious. If, somehow, you don’t care for the story, there are time-sensitive dialogue options at your disposal so you can rush through and get to the killing, though it does make your character look like a total jerk. If you aren’t in a hurry, there are some really great moments driven entirely by the dialogue, both in and out of missions. While your choices don’t seem to have consequences, you get to learn so much about this riveting and peculiar world.
When on one of these missions, you travel from section to section. Once everyone is either murdered, or in some cases, avoided entirely, you can proceed, and murder everyone in the next room too. As the game progresses, the levels become a lot less linear, allowing for a lot of diverse approaches in how to take down the enemies. The mechanics are also incredibly simple, allowing you to master them and use them to suit the level. You’re mostly jumping, slashing and dodge-rolling, the latter of which gives you some much needed, if still brief, periods of invincibility. The levels are not all simply platforming either, with a motorcycle chase, and a minecart ride being some of the best levels in the game.
Your samurai is also incredibly squishy, needing only one bullet, smack, explosion or punch to drop dead and forcing you to rewind and try the level again. Though bullets aren’t all that, because your samurai can slow down time, and swing at a bullet to send it back from whence it came. Though I won’t spoil it, I really appreciate that this otherworldly mechanic is given an in-game reason to exist, rather than them leaving it and saying “you just can lol.” You do only have limited amounts of slow-down, and it might leave you floundering if you use it too liberally.
Though consistently challenging, the game never feels like a slog. Levels are just long enough to leave you feeling satisfied when you complete them, while still maintaining that sense of “just one more try, and they’ll all be goners” if you don’t. One feature I never found myself grabbed by was the replay at the end of a level. Your samurai records everything on a tape recorder, that you can rewind upon completion of a level, but for me, it wasn’t as interesting as actually playing the game and I found myself skipping them almost every time.
The games’ neon, cyberpunk, neo-noir aesthetic is of consistent excellence. The vicious visuals, alongside an engaging synth-heavy soundtrack created by LudoWic that ebbs from dark and dramatic to dreamlike in the blink of an eye, allows you to immerse yourself and enjoy an entirely thematically-correct world.
This all being said, the game is not particularly long. But for how much I’ve enjoyed my time with Katana ZERO, I think that, with any runtime, I would have wanted more, so I can’t really fault it.
● The mechanics are slick, making the gameplay immensely satisfying.
● The world design, story and soundtrack are impeccable.
● The dialogue may be a little too dense for repeat playthroughs or those looking for a quick adrenaline pumping session.
● I could have done with a few more enemy types.