Switch version tested
Katana Zero is a 2D side-scrolling action game from developers Askiisoft and published by Devolver Digital. Hitting Steam and Nintendo Switch we’re here as always to give you the lowdown on everything this adventurous game has to offer.
The story is simplistic, you play as Subject Zero aka ‘The Dragon’ a contract killer who has been involved in the Cromag War with an unnamed Asianic enemy. Zero lives alone but is befriended by a little girl who lives next to him, the whole thing gives off a massive Matilda vibe from the movie Leon. The game’s locations are set against the neo-noir city of New Mecca with our protagonist suffering recurring nightmares. Contracts which form the basis of the missions and are handed to you by your psychiatrist after each counselling session. There isn’t much more to it than that but as you progress you are drip fed a little more explanation about the war and Zero, so I won’t spoil that for you. Katana Zero excels at giving you just enough reasoning to keep going while feeling intrigued about where everything is heading.
The game plays very much like a side on Hotline Miami which itself is an astounding series. If you haven’t played either the first or second stop what you are doing right now and give them a play (well after reading this). Katana Zero features no health bar whatsoever meaning one hit results in death. To aid you on your journey you are equipped with a katana and a unique power, administered by medication handed out by the psychiatrist, that gives you a slowdown time effect.
This all goes hand in hand to help you get through each level, be it slicing through bullets as they are fired or rolling past enemies to slash them from behind. You also get the fun of hurling objects at your enemies. The unusual concept of this game is that you aren’t actually playing the level so to speak but instead planning them out and then watching the playback. This is presented in a very cool cinematic black and white style which looks awesome on the Switch in its retro pixel art style. This is heightened by the beautiful synth wave soundtrack as once you hear it you’ll find it hard to get out of your mind, it’s really catchy. There are two main strategies in order to be successful, take the stealth approach or simply go all out and kill everyone you see. Of course, didn’t go for the stealth option because I wanted to see as much of the gore as possible and gore a plenty there is. Due to its very nature, the katana generally leaves a very red mess wherever you go. Later in the levels you get some fun pickups to make things a little easier such as distraction techniques like smoke.
Katana Zero offers a lot of replayability much in the same way Hotline Miami does. While the areas are the same with each playthrough the reactions of the enemies will always surprise you, they never do the same thing twice. Its all about getting that perfect run through and hitting all the notes, it’s just the best feeling. Equally good is when you actually die because it immediately rewinds and you find yourself back into the action within a few seconds. Little things like this make it the ultimate one last go game, getting through levels take no longer than a couple of minutes.
While writing this I found out that Katana Zero was made by an extremely small team consisting of one programmer and two musicians, they did everything in the game. It is a superb example of video game greatness. Everything the development team have put in pays off and the finished product is very polished. Of the little story on offer, it is well paced and I simply cannot recommend it enough. It has that infinitely replayable style to it, yeah you will know the story inside out but it will keep drawing you back in to get better runs as you search for the quickest way through a level. I’m not one to give a high score just for the sake of it and be that guy but with Katana Zero I think it’s justified.
TBG Score: 9.5/10
Release Date: 18/04/2019
No. of Players: 1
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Download link: eShop