Game Review #284: Katana ZERO (Nintendo Switch)
Reviewer: Chad M.
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Category: Action, Arcade, Strategy, Platformer
Release Date: 4.18.2019
Price (at time of review): $14.99
Buy Katana ZERO from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Hotline Samurai Assassin
When I look in my email and I see that publisher Devolver sent a new game to check out I immediately get excited, as their track record with picking great indie titles from both established and up-and-coming new developers is impeccable. Katana ZERO is developed by Askiisoft, based here in the states, but primarily created by Justin Stander over the span of six years. Katana ZERO is a 2-D action platformer that uses the one-hit-and-instant-death formula similar to Hotline Miami, a game that I liked quite bit. As I played and talked to fellow gamers, many would also compare it to Hotline Miami, and I can see why, but I feel that Katana ZERO does so much to set itself apart and make its own name that it shouldn’t stand in anyone else’s shadow. So pull your blade and get ready to wreck stuff as we dig into this one.
Nobody Gets Out Alive
Katana ZERO’s setting is neo-noir, with a story that seems to borrow from so many movies I’ve loved over the years. You play as a badass katana-wielding, bathrobe-wearing assassin who has earned the name “Dragon” for his ferocious work when taking out his targets, as he kills everyone, leaving no survivors. He does this aided by a drug called Chronos, which is administered by his therapist, who also hands down his targets. He lives in a rundown apartment in the projects where he sips herbal tea after long day of killing his enemies. Here is where we are introduced to two important plot aspects: his nightmares, and his young female neighbor—which I won’t go into any further, as I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say I was getting some major Leon the Professional and Monsters Inc. (Sully & Boo) vibes from their relationship and character set up.
As the story progresses, “The Dragon” has now been put on a path where he must connect the dots to find out who’s pulling the strings and what’s really happening all around him. The story is not the strongest part of the game, though I did really enjoy it and the characters; but it did leave me wanting a little more, and I’m hoping that this is just one in series of games that flesh out a deeper narrative in the story.
It’s Going To Be A Bloody Affair
The controls are fairly straightforward, with the left stick and d-pad moving you around, buttons are strike, jump, pick up/throw, interact, and then the right bumper is a dodge roll that helps you evade attacks—it can also be canceled and go straight into an attack or jump. Lastly, the left bumper is the slow down “matrix effect” that allows you to react to a multitude of things, like seeing a bullet coming at you in slow motion, giving you ample time to reflect that right back at that knockoff-looking John Wick who shot at you.
This leads me into the gameplay, which ties into the slowdown. The slowdown is only one of the abilities that the Chronos drug offers our cosplayer-looking protagonist. The ability—which I thought was a great way to spin “dying a lot before succeeding”—is that you’re a precog, like in Minority Report, and you can see ahead into the future long enough to make the perfect run through the bad guys. As each level is broken down into 4-7 screens or so, each time you’d jump into that screen and have to break down the puzzle, this ability is how you are able to survive and kill everyone on the screen, leaving no survivors. So, each time you die, a screen flashes saying, “No.... That won’t do.” It will then rewind back, and then you’d jump back in again and again, until you have successfully eliminated everyone without dying. Once you do finish, the screen colors go black and white, showing surveillance footage of you massacring everyone; and it’s makes all that hard work you put in look so easy breezy, which adds to why everyone fears your character, as he seems god like.
Each level is riddled with all different obstacles and enemies that make this more of a puzzle game than I thought it would be, and it adds layers to what is already a great action platformer. Helping you solve these puzzles when needing to reach high places, I found that striking above me whilst in mid-air would give me sort of a double jump. The platforming is there, but I’d say the puzzle and action are far more the main gameplay elements here.
You start off fighting normal thugs, then Slick-Eddy-looking guys with swords, and then a mixture of guys with guns, from henchmen to SWAT-looking officers that use more than just your normal single bullet rounds. Learning to dodge-roll a scatter-gun without using the slow motion was a proud moment for myself. Actually, by the time I’d beaten the game the first time on my second play through, I tried to just barely use the slow down feature, only using it as a get-out-of-jail-free card to save my butt.
When interacting with the NPCs, it turns into a choose-your-answer story mode. I loved the addition of the feature where, when you choose to rush the NPC’s dialogue while they are talking, the screen would noticeably shake. I kept trying different scenarios, like I would become very skeptical and push away the NPCs were instructing me; and since they were the ones that administered my drugs and gave me dossiers on targets, when I forcibly stopped taking my meds, things around me like the once-detailed information in the dossiers changed to what looked like pure killer madness. I felt as though I’d seen all of this in one form or another already, but it felt so fresh and fun wrapped up in this new package.
Audio & Visuals
The audio is done very well across the board. The sound effects are top-notch, with the soundtrack being a synthwave masterpiece that is composed by Ludowic and Bill Kiley. I loved how, at the beginning of each mission, the assassin would turn on his playlist before starting to massacre everyone. It reminded me of how Ryan Gosling’s character in Drive would do the same, whether it be to take someone out or perform a getaway. The 16-bit pixel art graphics are glorious. While so many are screaming pixel fatigue at this time, I embrace it when it’s done right; and here it is done exceptionally well, with a lot of attention paid to even the smallest little details, like the way the steam moves when you blow your herbal tea that you drink every night before going to sleep.
It’s A Wrap!!!
Katana ZERO, as I stated, does things I’ve seen before, but refined them in such a way that made it feel fresh and new. I loved my two playthroughs, and see no reason to stop, as each time I see something in the story that I didn’t see before. Now, saying that, I hope they continue the story and go deeper into the lore. Now that I’ve gushed over this game for the entire review, I think it’s clear that I highly recommend making this game a part of your collection, and I can’t wait to double dip when it becomes a physical. So, grab your sword and bathrobe, and get ready for a bloody good time!
Buy Katana ZERO from the Nintendo Switch eShop here.
Follow Katana ZERO
Follow Devolver Digital
*Review Code Provided by Tinsley PR