I first had a chance to play Katana ZERO, by Askiisoft, at PAX East earlier this year. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of it. There have been a lot of both platformers and games with retro-style graphics that have come to the Nintendo Switch the last few years and I thought this was another one of those games. Once I played the demo, I knew I judged Katana ZERO unfairly. This game is a masterpiece in every way. The game has some unique mechanics, incredible visuals, a captivating story and music that wraps this package up nicely. After getting my hands on the complete game, I want more.
Precognition is at the core of the gameplay in Katana ZERO.
You play as a samurai with an attitude. Thanks to the use of expiremental drugs, this samurai has the talent of precognition. Gameplay wise, this doesn’t mean you have the ability to know where enemies will be and what they will do before they do it. Instead, it means if you get hit, you rewind to the beggining of the room you are in and start over. One hit is all it takes to force a do-over, but those do-overs are unlimited so a mistake isn’t game ending. Trust me, you will use A LOT of do-overs. The game can be unforgiving in that you will get hit often and forced to rewind to the beggining of the room.
To make it through most rooms, you have to memorize patterns of where enemies are and when new ones appear. These rooms are usually on the shorter side, but not so short they are a cake walk. The unlimited rewinds makes the challenge not only bearable, but actually delightful. There really is no loading between retries either as you rewind to the start of the room. In fact, rewinding looks and sounds like rewinding a VHS tape. I am not the best at games like this, and there were points where I didnt think I would make it through the game. However, I was able to clear all the rooms in a very reasonable time. So if you aren’t the best at platformers, this is a game you can enjoy.
Combat is a fast paced and fluid dance.
Your main weapon is your katana. It can used for deflecting bullets back at attackers, or it can used to slash them open and spray their blood all over the walls. Sometimes, you have to rull under gunfire and come up with a horizontal slash to the midsection of a thug. Other times you have to bash in a door, slash a guy in the back and hurl a beer bottle at another goon across the room. Combat is fast paced and a ton of fun. It reminds me of a well choreographed kung fu movie. It it so much fun to run around and slash. Even after finishing the game, I keep going back and replaying it!
Dialogue choices have an impact on the story and how people treat you further in the game.
I know, we have heard this a lot. A lot of games claim that dialogue and decisions have an impact on future events. In Katana ZERO, your dialogue choices will often have immediate consequences. There’s a dialogue meter in each conversation broken down into red and white parts. If you decide to rudely cut someone off and tell them to shut up, they will remember that. You can also choose to show some manners and let others finish their sentences. I wonder if this was added because people tend to blow through dialogue portions to get back to playing the game. As you would expect, people don’t like it when you are rude to them and they will react accordingly. You will find out less of the story by cutting people off, so I recommend being pleasant in conversations. I really like this mechanic in the game.
Katana ZERO is a visually stunning work of art.
The character sprites in Katana ZERO are some of the best I have ever seen. As far as sprites go, they are nearly flawless. It really struck me how the characters move so fluidly. In most games with retro-style graphics I am used to motions, especially fast ones, being choppy. There is none of that in Katana ZERO. When you roll, or jump, or slash, the animations look natural. It is one of the things that stood out to me immediately when I was playing. Another thing I noticed that was well done was the blood spray. After slicing a thug, the blood will spray patterns aren’t cookie cutter. They go every which way. To me, this shows that developer cared about the little visual details. He wanted to make it more convincing than it would have been if every spray fit into one or two patterns. Katana ZERO is visually striking. If you enjoy retro-style pixel art, this may be one of the best examples of it to date.
The music really helps set the tone of man on a mission to rid his city of goons.
The music that the samurai listens to fits the world and the game so well. Each level begins with the samurai pushing play on his walkman, The songs that play as you open the stomachs of goons fits so well. It reminds me of a 1980’s action film. The rhythms of the songs flow so well. Mix in with that the sounds of the blade cutting through the air, and the gun shots, all of the sound effects really, and you have an auditory delight.
Overall, the artistic side of Katana ZERO is some of the best I have experienced in a long time. For me, the art and audio direction was perfect.
I’m not one to ruin the story of a game for someone, so I will leave it at this; there are experimental drugs, war, spotty memories, and a (potentially) sarcastic portagonist. The story had me hooked almost immediately and I wanted to take it all in as fast as I could. Bottom line, Katana ZERO has a great story! Overall, this game is nearly perfect. It is one of the most satisfying games I have played in the last year, and probably my favorite new game of this year. It is available on both PC and Nintendo Switch, so you have a few options. This is game that will make you coming back for more. For great game play, stunning visuals and music, and a compelling story, I give Katana ZERO a 4.75/5. DO NOT SLEEP ON THIS ONE.