“Katana ZERO” is a relentless, challenging and entertaining side-scroller that plays as good as it looks – Review

So, ahead of the next episode of The Indie Bandits Podcast, alongside Baba Is You, Untitled Goose Game, and Outer Wilds, I picked up Katana ZERO to see what all the fuss was about.

Pros

  • Wonderful neo-noir pixel-art.
  • Intuitive and easy-to-pick-up gameplay
  • The story always leaves you wanting more

Cons

  • Levels can feel repetitive
  • One-hit death is unforgiving
  • It’s relatively short

The story in this fairly short game (we’re talking 4-5 hours, approx) is pretty wacky. Essentially, you’re a time-bending, katana-wielding, ex-soldier with amnesia who regularly sees an angry psychiatrist who doses you with drugs to keep you from “seeing things” and who sends you out on various assassination missions. Oh, and your name is ‘Dragon’.

As the game progresses and events occur, you start to ask more and more questions about who you are, what you’re doing, and why. You find out more about your past and the story touches on some dark and heavy themes at times, but it always keeps you intrigued and moves along at a good pace.

And, honestly, that’s all I want to say because telling you any more would be entering spoiler territory and it’s better jumping into this story having learned as little as possible.

As for the gameplay, you’ll leap from walls, smash through floors, roll through lasers, and hack and slash your way through a small variety of enemies as you attempt to complete one of your assassinations. The controls are easy to pick up, but take a bit of effort to master. On the face of it, it’s nothing you haven’t seen in a thousand other side scroller games.

What you definitely haven’t seen in a thousand other side scrollers is the fact you can slow down time (you know, to deflect bullets) and that you cannot, ever, be hit with a ‘Game Over’ screen.

If you get hit, you die. Regardless of whether or not that hit came from a punch or a bullet from a shotgun – you get tagged and you’re a goner. It’s pretty unforgiving and could be off-putting to more casual gamers except that every time you die, time rewinds (literally – time is a pretty big deal in this game) and the level restarts.

With the click of a button you’re back in the game and ready to go again. This rapid restart encourages you to keep replaying those trickier levels, figuring out the perfect strategy and timing to progress – something that’s very satisfying when you put it all together for a perfect run.

The Verdict

Katana ZERO is a fast, fun and, at times, trippy game that’ll keep you engaged and entertained throughout its relatively short play-time. It looks and sounds amazing (seriously, it’s worth playing for those two reasons alone) and I thoroughly recommend picking it up.

Katana ZERO was developed by Askiisoft and published by Devolver Digital. It’s available on Nintendo Switch and PC.

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