Katana Zero is a game from Askiisoft, giving a fast-paced action platformer with a large amount of style. It has what appears to be a novel new take on the genre, and is both punishing and superb once the player starts to master the technique.
It also is a game that feels like it has two distinct ideas about the experience, though the second half is clearly where the game excels.
Katana Zero starts with a simple level and a unique premise. The player is playing a samurai-looking character, who I’ll just refer to as “The Samurai” to avoid any major discussion of the plot points. The Samurai can plan out his attacks on each level. The goal is to kill all the enemies and progress to the next stage. The key to this is that enemies will follow the same paths given the same stimulus, and the player also gets a small ability to slow down time.
Enemies are dangerous, as The Samurai is given no life meter, and a single mistake will spell his death, but because it’s only a “planning scenario” in his mind, he can attempt multiple run-throughs of the same level. Once a working plan is in place, the game then shows the character completing the level in black and white footage, likely done to imply it’s a recording.
As a concept this sounds novel and fresh; in practice, it’s less so. While the concept does give a thematic way to explain why the player can die multiple times without actually dying or having some fake construct such as “lives”, it’s done more for the story’s sake as a way to explain a few scenes later. The replay of your actions though is the bigger problem as it seems like it’s a way for the game to extend its run time in the worst way. The few replays I watched had me saying “That’s exactly what I did less than a minute ago, what’s the point?” Again this is done for a single-story scene far later, and while the replay is skippable, it doesn’t add much to the experience.
The gameplay of the “planning session” is excellent though. The controls are extremely tight, the combat is fast, and the player feels like he’s both powerful at times, such as being able to deflect bullets back at enemies who shoot at him, and powerless, such as when an enemy shoots a shotgun with multiple pellets.
The core gameplay loop is fast, where The Samurai has to keep on his toes to be sure to dodge attacks, deliver fatal blows, and more, and since everything dies in one hit, players can tear through enemies always aware the one misstep will restart the level.
The first few levels are run of the mill but by the end of the game, there are enough tricks, traps, and different enemies that each level will be both challenging and interesting to travel through. The only level I found to be lacking was a stealth level that worked but required a few techniques the game didn’t teach directly.
The same is true for the story. While the first third or half of the story is relatively ordinary at times, it introduces the player to major elements of the game, it’s about a third of the way through the game, where the story seems to buck the trend and enter into a deeply disturbing and suspenseful thriller. Once the story picks up, the entire experience of Katana Zero comes alive.
I’ll forgo a major analysis of the story because it should be experienced from scratch, and after watching the full game, the first third of the game makes sense as it sets up the character’s world. But the story also has a big issue.
The game has its major crescendo in the final level and feels like there’s perhaps one final level to tie up loose ends. However, that’s not to be. Instead, the game ends on not one but two massive cliffhangers, leading players to a “To be continued” screen.
The issue is this doesn’t feel like a complete story. While a game like the original God of War was set up to be a trilogy, or at least have a sequel, God of War itself contained a full story that had a beginning, middle, and end. Katana Zero doesn’t contain a full ending, or rather it has all the pieces for it, but the story leaves enough major parts of its ending opening that it becomes unsatisfying.
Of course, while looking back at the first four or five levels from the story aspect makes sense, it’s also about a third of the game where the player may become uninterested. With the game only hitting its stride after that section, it takes the player a couple of hours to get the major feeling of the experience. Up to that point, it’s a relatively average platformer, with enemies that won’t challenge the player too much.
Once the player can get past the opening section, Katana Zero will knock them off their feet with the visuals, story, and music. The gameplay is tight that there are a few sections in the final levels that were a pure joy to play. Katana Zero does get extremely good and ends on a very strong note, it takes a good amount of the four to six-hour run time to get there, and has trouble nailing the landing after those final moments.
I ultimate give Katana Zero an arbitrary
I look forward to a future DLC and likely sequel, but I also think there could have been a move to tell the full story in a single title, rather than releasing what feels like 80 percent of the full tale in one game.
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