Katana Zero, from Askiisoft, is more than an ultra-violent platformer. It's also well-paced and extremely smart with its self-awareness.
Taking place in a 80s inspired, neon, neo-noir setting, players can use the main character's time-warping abilities to take as many runs at a level as required to get it right. It's a clever use of an in-game part of the story, and explains the limitless reattempts players might need to finish up. It's not just this at your character's disposal however, they can pull off amazing dodges, throws and can also slow time so much so that they can deflect bullets. You'll need all of these abilities though because the odds are really against you.
- Katana Zero was announced for Nintendo Switch during the Nindies Showcase Spring 2019, here's everything announced in the stream.
The one-hit kill action game has players taking on the role of an assassin with post-traumatic stress disorder, the aforementioned time-manipulation abilities, and a strange compulsion to take a sword into gunfights. The character is haunted by events in their dreams which tie into a wound they received in the past. Between missions they discuss their dreams and life with a psychiatrist, who also happens to be the person issuing them the drug at the heart of their abilities, and the dossiers for their assassination targets.
It has that fast-paced and brutal gameplay loop of Hotline Miami, you'll fail and you'll probably fail quite often. There won't be much in it, maybe you should have jumped and thrown that vase at the broken pipe rather than trying to deflect the machine-turret bullets. Failure might come fast, but restarting the run is almost instant, and if you're adept then you probably won't spend more than a few minutes when you get the run correct.
Dashing and dodging, as previously mended, are essential. The world of Katana Zero might be filled by thugs dressed as mafia underlings, cassette players and 80s murk, but it also has banging electronic music, SWAT members and laser beams. You need to dodge through the laser beams as much as you do bullets — anything they touch dies. That said, the laser deadliness counts for enemies as well as you, which brings me to my next point.
The normal rush of relief when you manage to reach your target in games is something that is subverted in Katana Zero: You've still got to find your way out. Not only do you have to find your way out, but if you die in that time then you restart the run right from the start of the level. This is where some of the traps used against you, like the lasers, can be turned to your side.
There's more to it all than fast combat though. For a start, Katana Zero actually has a quite compelling story. The main character's traumatic past remains hidden for a while, however dreams and visions invade their mind during the time between missions. These dreams change and adapt as you discuss them with your mission-giving psychiatrist.
This brings me to one of the coolest features: Conversation timers. Having a ticking timer on a conversation isn't a new feature, RPGs and Telltale's point and click games have been using them for years. Katana Zero flips it on its head by reversing the way the timer works. When the options first appear all of the answers available are brash and rough, after you've heard some of the conversation more replies open up. This means that people who quickly rush conversations do so in a rude manner. This ties into the gameplay too.
One level begins in the reception of a building owned by the target. The receptionist questions the fact that you are dressed as a samurai. I chose to explain that I was a cosplayer and then had a somewhat drawn-out conversation about that with the receptionist. At the time it seemed unnecessary, almost quaint, however at the end of the mission the conversation got me out of a very tough gunfight as she vouched for me to security.
The person overseeing the game stand explained that if I had rushed the conversation then she'd have stayed silent and I'd have been faced with a sword x shotgun showdown in the lobby on my return.
Katana Zero is launching on the 18th of April on PC & Nintendo Switch.Click here to read more about upcoming games