Review: Katana Zero


Neo-Noir Action

2D Platformers will always be one of those genres that is easy to get into, but hard to master depending on the game. There are the Nintendo games that is aimed at people of all ages and different gaming skills and then there’s games like Katana Zero, in which one failure could be instant death. It’s the type of game where countless failures will finally reach to mastery. Learn from your mistakes.

We usually don’t cover these types of Indie games but given that Japanese lore and how fun the game is, I needed to review it. Katana Zero is a 2D side-scrolling action game developed by Askiisof and published by Devolver Digital. The story revolves around Zero, an amnesiac samurai assassin tasked with killing anyone he’s contracted to kill. Due to be experimented with a drug called Chronos, it granted him a unique perception of time, granting him bullet time and infinite lives. It allows him to rewind time before his failure as much as he pleases. He also has the ability to glide through the stage, dodge roll—which can also be used to bypass enemy shields, and deflect bullets with a well-timed slice.

While the gameplay is simple with a lot of repetition, there’s a lot of satisfaction when you get the timing rights, especially after so many failures. However, the level design feels average as the while the challenge increases, it basically just more enemies to kill or fewer projectiles to use. It begins to feel less like an open-ended action game with infinite possibilities and more linear on how to beat each level.

These are well-worn game mechanics, but Katana Zero shrewdly builds its story around them to give them weight. Despite its professional benefits, Chronos takes a brutal toll on its addicts. Zero lives alone in a shitty studio apartment. He kills out of necessity. The only way to get more Chronos is to continue working for his supplier. Going cold turkey means a terrible fate: Perception of time stops, with every second stretching into infinity.

The narrative gradually unpacks this dreadful choice: endless violent repetition or infinite oblivion. Interactive moments between levels offer me some control of the shape of the journey. Dialog options provide more insight into Zero’s plight. When a therapist interviews me, I can press for more information about the drugs he administers or I can clam up and seethe. In another scene I decide to be nice to the little girl who lives next to me, cooking her dinner (a packet of protein paste, regrettably). The main story isn’t really altered by my choices (barring a couple quirky exceptions) but they options enrich my connection with Zero and the price he pays for immortality.

The narrative scenes take place in the same 2D platformer worlds, but they’re meticulously animated. Despite the low-fi, 16-bit style of the artwork, subtle details like an eyebrow raise or a head nod come through clearly. This makes the interactive elements of the story feel impactful (even when they aren’t). They accompany a slick synth score, alternating between thumping action scenes and ambient vibrations for the story-heavy dialogues.

This is not an uplifting world. There are times when the dark tone and themes in Katana Zero can overwhelm the experience. I could live without seeing two addicts get brutally murdered next to Zero’s apartment. And without much gameplay variance, it’s sometimes hard to motivate myself through all the gloom.

Overall, I had a great time with the game, from its narrative grimness and all its slimy settings. The Japanese lore. The many attempts I made to perfectly beat all of levels. I initially thought it was just going to be another “difficult” game but the narrative was really good.


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Katana Zero reviewed by Christian Chiok



Impressive effort with a few noticeable problems holding it back. Won't astound everyone, but is worth your time and cash.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide


Christian Chiok
Christian ChiokContributor   gamer profile

Christian has been a gamer since his early childhood. He's a big fan of the King of Fighters and the Metal Slug series. Additionally, Christian enjoys cooking, listening to music, watching anime ... more + disclosures



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