With its gorgeous and stylized pixel art, fast-paced and frantic, yet simple combat system and an absolutely stellar soundtrack filled with both synth-wave bangers and haunting piano pieces, Katana Zero from one-man development team Askiisoft is a brutal and beautiful 2D action platformer dripping with style and personality. It’s short, yet intriguing, the story captivates the player and drives you to fight through a room after room of one-hit kill enemies, and tackle creative ways to eliminate your enemies. Katana Zero is a masterful indie game brimming with style and violence and its short campaign only leaves you wanting more of this brilliant little game.
What is this Insanity?
Katana Zero puts you in the shoes of an assassin called Zero, armed with nothing but a deadly katana, and a bathrobe, and tasks you in completing a series of increasingly challenging contracts to take down high-value targets, given to you in dossiers by your therapist. But the combat, which is incredibly fun and high octane, featuring one hit kills for both, you and your enemies are only one part of what makes Katana Zero such a gripping game which keeps you at the edge of your seat through its 4 hours or so story. Katana Zero also features branching dialogue options with NPCs throughout your journey, and some incredibly dark and mature themes, in a futuristic dystopian city called New Mecca. There are moments within the game that will make your head spin and make you question what you’ve just witnessed, and even your own sanity; and with its VHS style delivery and use of ethically questionable time drug called Chronos, the player will experience an, at times, a haunting and horrifying story which by its finale, will leave you wanting much more.
Combat throughout the game consists of your assassin player being tasked to navigate through several rooms per mission, loaded with guards who are equipped with both melee and ranged weapons, and stylishly eliminate all opponents with your trusty katana. Thanks to your continued application of Chronos, you can slow down time throughout these fights to help tackle tougher scenarios, but when you die – or seemingly – you are rewound to the start of the room to repeat the process until perfected. This mechanic is an assault on the senses as you will die over and over again, causing your game to repeatedly rewind like a videotape and attempt rooms multiple times, and this perfectly encapsulates the mind-bending atmosphere of Katana Zero. Other than your katana, there is a swathe of items to pick up including bottles, statues, molotovs, smoke grenades and bombs which are one-use items you can throw at your enemies to help in combat. Boss fights increase the difficulty and make use of all your learned mechanics, but it always feels fresh and fun, and nothing drags the game down. Several levels require you to learn new techniques or include interesting new challenges, and this keeps Katana Zero always feeling enjoyable.
But the combat, personally, breaks up the most interesting part of the game, which is its story. The developer has done a brilliant job at melding the brutal and enjoyable combat with a story that just leaves you craving more. Dream sequences leave you questioning your past experiences, but what happens in the real world is even more concerning. Torture, betrayal, military secrets and drug fanatics pepper the game with a sense of absolute madness in Askiisoft’s dystopian world. And the way the game is delivered, with intense screen shaking, flashbacks, hallucinations, and time distortion left me scratching my head, or just completely dumbfounded at the intensity of the game’s story. You can talk to a bunch of characters throughout the game, and choose between a small selection of dialogue options in each conversation, some of which can lead to different paths through some levels. Without talking about spoilers, there is a massive decision to be made about three-quarters through the game, which can alter the ending of the game hugely. There is so much great stuff in the story alone, but the only place I can fault Katana Zero is it left me wanting more. This is not to say it ended abruptly without conclusion, because the ending was fantastic, but I felt like there could be more of this brilliant world to experience, which makes sense being that it ends on a ‘To Be Continued’ screen. I’m excited to see what comes next, and I hope to be able to explore the dark and haunting lore of this game world again with additional content.
Finally, the music in Katana Zero is, in no small terms, perfect. The artists behind the dark and gritty synth-wave and dance tunes that play through Zero’s walkman as he battles his way through enemies absolutely make Katana Zero’s atmosphere an unforgettable one. This, coupled with a beautiful piano score outside of combat, adds hugely to the way the story is delivered and the emotion of this game. Music is such a big part of the game, and its simplistic yet brilliant combat system and intense narrative sections are complemented perfectly by the score. This is something that cannot be understated if you want a game with amazing music that fits the themes throughout – you have to play Katana Zero. Huge praise goes to composer Bill Kiley, and artist Ludowic who features prominently throughout the game, and I highly recommend going to check their music out, as they’ve just done a masterful job in complementing both the art style and feel of the game.
Katana Zero is an intense, brain-warping, brutal game, with a beautiful art style, stellar soundtrack, and a wonderful story. Its dystopian cyberpunk world, filled with freaks and monsters, is an unforgettable experience which leaves you craving more and more. The game throws many challenges your way and arms you with little more than a katana and your diminishing sanity, and the combat sequences are bookended by a narrative that is both written and delivered in an amazing way. With the teaser of more to come, but also a story that does answer many questions posed throughout, as well as leaving the player questioning just what the hell is happening on the screen, I’m excited to see what is next for this brilliant, one-man developed game. If you like the idea of a dark, dystopian world, and combat and narrative to match its style, Katana Zero is a must buy. Go get on it…10 out of 10.
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