Katana ZERO Review: Modern Beauty

If I have one complaint about Katana ZERO, it's that there's not already a sequel.

Katana ZERO is what you get when you mix '80s aesthetics with a story-driven and visceral 2D action/puzzle game.

I love it.

I've been familiar with developer Askiisoft for a decade now, thanks to their brilliant first release Tower of Heaven. At the time, it was passed around the internet as a mindblowing flash game. The platforming was floaty, but its Game Boy-era graphics and surprisingly catchy soundtrack paired with... well, you should just check it out. It's still very playable.

Askiisoft's later free releases, such as Jump Ahead and OverPowered, have all had a similarly compelling combination of aesthetics, music, and confusion. They have a particular style, no one can deny that.

Katana ZERO is the small studio's first full paid game, anyone aware of their previous work would know this one would be something special. A bigger, better, and more surprising Askiisoft game than ever before and you know what? It really is just that.

You spend most of the six or so hours of Katana ZERO working as a hitman with some serious problems. The world is dystopian and grimy, and the player character is very clearly mentally ill. That's all right, though. He's got a special power and is sort of open to taking his medicine.

That "special power" is his ability to manipulate time, which manifests in a few different ways during gameplay. You can manually slow time to dodge hazards like giant rotating fan blades, and your rolls warp time (Is it warping time or is he just that smooth?) just enough to keep you safe from damage or to get by other particular hazards.

However, the way his power manifests most for the player is the simple fact that when you get hit, you restart the stage. That's a rough way to manipulate time.

Each hit (assassination) you have to take care of has clear instructions. Sometimes it's not to talk to the target, sometimes it's to not kill anyone at all. The restrictions are varied and there are consequences to not performing as instructed.

Image source: Steam

The controls in Katana ZERO are buttery smooth; taking out grunts and bounding between rooms is an absolute delight. Slash, roll, wall-jump, whatever. It's all smooth as silk and incredibly satisfying to not only strike your enemies down, but to block-dodge their attacks and even their gunshots using your deft agility, trusty katana, and even environmental items.

You're not just trying to survive the human element in each stage, though. The targets you're after are high-profile and have similarly effective security measures you'll have to roll, sneak, and time-slow your way through to get in and out without breaking the contract's rules.

The thing is, though: You don't have to follow the instructions on the contract. There are consequences, but you can easily go your own way in most situations. It just may not be worthwhile for you to do so.

There are more choices than how you want to approach your missions, though. Between jobs are psychiatric appointments and story-driving dialogue scenes, both of which can be outright bizarre and do a fantastic job of portraying the gaps in one's memory, and how memory and imagination can blur with such ease.

The story doesn't trudge forward, it sucks you into its spiral void. To move things along, you talk on the phone, with your psychiatrist, and even with certain NPCs, but you can always decide what they have to say isn't worth your time by cutting them off mid-sentence. You can do this through pretty much all of the dialogue in the game if you're so inclined.

The flexibility between how you can complete a stage and how you interact with the game's other characters adds a very personal touch to the game. You're certainly playing as a character, but you make the experience your own.

I honestly really love Katana ZERO, but I'm pensive to spoil some of the experience here in this review.

From its gorgeous pixel graphics and snazzy music not too far from vaporwave to the incredibly satisfying gameplay and intriguing story, there is certainly a chunk of the gaming community that would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving Katana ZERO a fair shake.

It is absolutely worth it, and more than worthy to be Askiisoft's first full release.

Pros
  • Dreamy tunes to kill to
  • Intriguing and uniquely presented story
  • Fair but challenging hack n' slash katana action that's very satisfying
  • Gorgeous pixel graphics
Cons
  • The ending and story leave you hanging and left wanting a sequel

[Note: A copy of Katana Zero was provided by Askiisoft for the purpose of this review.]

Our Rating
9
If I have one complaint about Katana ZERO, it's that there's not already a sequel.

Associate Editor

Ashley spends all her time playing games and studying languages, and it's a miracle she's not burned out on the whole thing after being a game addict since '89 (shout out to Love Shack by The B-52s). Classic annoying Sega kid, still hasn't let go of Sonic and prefers arcade-style games. Final Fantasy and SaGa rock whatever it is you like, chump.

Published Apr. 19th 2019

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