Katana ZERO is a 2D hack n’ slash platformer that allows you to manipulate time in order to cause bloody mayhem. Each day you are injected with your ‘medicine’ and sent out on assassination missions as you do whatever you can to regain your memory and piece the madness together. Katana ZERO is shrouded in mystery and will have you questioning what is real throughout the entirety of the game.
Katana ZERO has a very quick tutorial, allowing you to jump straight into the action – and what action that is! As a katana-wielding samurai, the aim of the game is to move quickly, slow down time and cut down whoever is in your path – leave no man alive. At the end of each segment, you are shown a replay of your runthrough from the security cameras, which is always fun to watch.
Dashing through lasers and slowing down time to strike oncoming bullets, sending it right back at the enemies is such a satisfying feeling. It’s even more satisfying that you can pick up objects, such as axes and empty beer bottles, and throw them at your enemies. All of these abilities coupled together with hacking through waves of enemies and jumping around like a ninja provides a great adrenaline rush.
The game can be quite challenging. If you are hit once, you die and need to start from the beginning. But when I say from the beginning, I mean from the beginning of one of the short snippets that the game is divided up into. Each enemy requires precision-perfect accuracy, really putting your skills to the test.
If you repeatedly die in a segment, you’ll get a phone call reminding you about abilities that you may be neglecting to use. As well as being helpful, I found this to be a very organic method of providing help to the player.
Katana ZERO does well to keep the gameplay interesting by having creative boss fights and mixing up combat opportunities. The game runs smoothly for you to see all the blood splatter to your heart’s desire; not once did we experience any frame-rate dips, which is crucial for a game such as this.
From the get-go, there’s an air of mystery to the game. You answer a phone call and receive instructions of your mission (in a nutshell: go fast and kill everyone). There’s no explanation why, it’s just imperative that you do so.
The main protagonist of the game is known as The Dragon. You never get to learn his real name, reinforcing that mystery that tends to surround Katana ZERO. More of the plot is revealed through twisted dream sequences and wild hallucinations. You’re never really sure of what is real or not, relying on a drug to keep you from losing your mind.
Katana ZERO has some very intense moments and doesn’t like to hold back. The game presents a surprising amount of lore, with dialogue discussing about the war that occured seven years prior to the game’s events. A Heart string or two will also get pulled as the plot unfolds, with perfect execution and gut-wrenching key moments.
In between levels, you’ll return home to The Dragon’s rundown apartment where you can see that clearly, he doesn’t get paid enough. In the apartment, you can turn on the TV to watch the news, recounting the events that occurred throughout your assignments and revealing further lore in regards to the plot. At the beginning of each day, you’ll receive a new mission in the form of a dossier file. These dossiers tell you about your assassination target, putting context to the madness.
Graphics / Art Direction
The pixel art of Katana ZERO is very clean and sharp, with bright colours that makes the game truly stand out. The sprite work is very well done, with surprisingly detailed backgrounds that’ll make you want to stop and admire (make sure you’ve eliminated everyone before you do).
As the game continues, your mind begins to play tricks on you, using static lines that cut in between jumps of reality (or what may perceive to be). This further emphasises the feeling of being without a sense of reality, not being able to pinpoint what is real and what’s a hallucination.
Katana ZERO plays heavily into the hidden camera effect as you rewatch your killing sprees. The pause menu also ingeniously recreates the static and analogue aesthetics of old CRT TVs. It almost paints a picture that the entire game is recorded through CRT footage, which is a neat touch.
Music / Sound Design
The soundtrack has an incredible range that goes from crazy upbeat techno to sombre piano pieces that do an amazing job at creating the perfect atmosphere.
At the start of each level, The Dragon starts up his walkman to play the level’s soundtrack. It may not seem like much, and it really isn’t (some players may not even notice), but it’s these small details that really helps to flesh out the entire product that is Katana ZERO.
Final Score: 91%
Katana ZERO may have flown under the radar in the most recent Nindies Showcase, but let it be known that it truly stands up amongst the rest of them. The story has you questioning everything that happens, but not in a way that leaves you lost and scratching your head. This plot, coupled with precision perfect gameplay, makes Katana ZERO one of the great indie games of 2019.