[Review] Katana ZERO – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Devolver Digital
  • Publisher: Askiisoft
  • Release Date: 17/04/2019
  • Price: $14.99 / £13.49
  • Review code provided by Devolver Digital

Slice and Dice

Growing up in the early 90’s, I feel like you couldn’t go five minutes without seeing ninjas or samurais in popular culture. It flooded the mainstream mercilessly. Ninja Turtles, Power Rangers, Samurai Shodown, Mortal Kombat, even G.I. Joe had Storm Shadow and Snake Eye. As a kid in the 90’s, it was inevitable that I would fall in love with all of these brands and this love has mostly stuck with me into my 30s. So, when I got my hands on Katana ZERO, I knew I was in for a treat!

Katana ZERO places you in control of a modern-day samurai assassin known only as the “Dragon”. The Dragon must hunt down his targets for his employer while also dealing with his own demons. I was not expecting to walk away from this game praising the story, but there is a deep and disturbing story to be told about war, addiction, loss and regret. These story sections are told in a style akin to Mass Effect and Dragon age, with dialog choices effecting future interactions and gameplay sequences. Simply put, Katana ZERO has one of, if not the best, story I have experienced in a game in a long time. The only down fall, I would say, is the ending is a cliffhanger! Hopefully, this just means we will get a sequel sooner rather than later.

Blades of Fury

Everything seems like a standard side scrolling action game until your boss calls you in the first level. This is where the game differentiates itself from the herd. The between the scene’s interactions in Katana ZERO shine as they allow you to interrupt what people are saying or even hang up phone calls mid-sentence. This is something small, but it is ingenious, as you can make the NPCs infuriated. When I originally played through the beginning sequences, I followed orders and answered like a professional. On my second playthrough, I didn’t allow my employer to get a word in. It caused a vastly different experience. I continued this approach through my second playthrough and I noticed more small differences. The receptionist that I had once befriended now turned me into the police. Small touches made this game feel like everything you do matters.

This isn’t to say that the dialog is the only aspect that shines. The action is incredibly tight. The Dragon moves just like a samurai should, fast and deadly. You are also granted the ability to a use a form of bullet time in which everything is slowed down to give you more time to react to enemies and even deflect their bullets back at them. The battles themselves can sometimes feel like intricate puzzles that need to be solved instead of just a slash fest. If you jump blindly into a fight, you will probably lose a life or two. But you aren’t punished too harshly, as this game allows infinite retries. And every time I had to restart a section, I felt like I deserved it. I never felt like the game was unfair or too difficult, I just hadn’t figured out how to solve the puzzle yet. The boss fights were even more elaborate riddles and while there weren’t many boss fights, the few available were larger than life.

Katana ZERO features 11 levels and can be completed within 4 to 6 hours depending on skill. Upon completion, you are granted access to an extra level with locked doors. Finding keys throughout the game allows you to unlock these doors for special items and equipment that will change the way the game is played. Some of these keys can be hard to find. I didn’t find any on my first play through but found two on my second. The real replay ability for me comes from seeing the different sides of the story. I was immersed in this world and I wanted to use any excuse to get more information about it.

Way of the Warrior

Askii Soft delivered a game with beautiful 16-bit style sprites. All the characters flowed well together, and the environments looked great. This is how a 16-bit game looks in your memories; fluid character animations, bright colors that pop against the gritty atmosphere and small details that make this game a true gem. The enemies are reused, but not to a point where the sprites become tiresome. Each one has a specific attack and having so many varied models that all feel unique is impressive.

I cannot give high enough praise for the music in Katana ZERO. The stages feature amazing 80’s inspired retrowave/cyberpunk music and I cannot get enough of this genre. Each level starts with the Dragon putting his headphones on and hitting play on his Walkman. You hear the click of the cassette and then you are blessed with greatness. Even the none retrowave songs, such as the psychiatrist music fits perfectly.

Perfect Assassin

Katana ZERO ran perfectly while playing docked and handheld. I did tend to play more docked, but never noticed any slowdown while playing handheld. I preferred it docked just so I could see more of the amazing detail on a large screen, but if handheld is your go-to, the game still looks and plays incredibility.

Final Thoughts

I could go on forever about how Katana ZERO is a remarkable game. It has a perfect learning curve, incredibly unique style of storytelling, and an extremely rewarding gameplay. If you enjoy ninjas and samurai, you need to play Katana ZERO. If you like old school action platformers, Katana ZERO was made for you. Furthermore, if you like video games, you owe it to yourself to play Katana ZERO.

Pros

  • Tight Controls
  • Fantastic Retrowave Soundtrack
  • Unique Storytelling and Plot

Cons

  • Cliffhanger Ending
  • Limited Boss Fights

Verdict

Katana ZERO is the new epitome of stylish 2D action. It takes what others have done before and blends it to become something truly original.

5/5

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