Katana ZERO is a Brutal Time-Bending Samurai Game – PAX East Preview
Self-doubt was beginning to set in as I started what was likely my tenth attempt at clearing a difficult floor in the hotel suite that my target was hiding in. Sprint upstairs, eliminate the first guard, throw the vase at another, bust through a door, slice through the two remaining guards – this was the strategy I needed to execute, but in the heat of the moment I was having difficulty doing so. Feeling the gaze of some very patient people waiting in line behind me, the pressure was on. For the sake of my self-esteem, and the reputation of every video games journalist ever, I needed to beat this level. Luckily, after a few more grueling attempts and some slight adjustments as to who I was assassinating with a flower vase, I managed to successfully eliminate the baddies and move on to assassinate the mob boss I was hunting down. Feeling the satisfaction of my hard work pay off, I was elated. This was Katana ZERO, the upcoming neo-noir action platformer game created by Askiisoft, and simply put: it was badass.
However, prior to playing Katana ZERO at PAX East, I wasn’t sure how I’d receive the game. From the onset, the special effects and time-bending combat on display were incredibly eye-catching, but I was still unsure how fun the game would be in practice. Well, it turns out I had absolutely nothing to worry about because Katana ZERO is just splendid. The game’s brutal, instant-death combat facilitates tension reminiscent of Hotline Miami, a feeling that’s complemented by its gory pixel art and distorted synthwave soundtrack.
The musical prowess of LudoWic, the Dutch electronic music producer known for using analog synths, is on full display in Katana ZERO. The instruments featured in each track swell up to create a wall of sound that puts the listener in a trance-like state, with each note of the arpeggiated bass pushing them further and further past the next challenge that’s facing them down. From the small sampling of songs that I’ve heard on LudoWic’s Bandcamp page, I’m going to guess that we’ll be hearing a lot of praise for Katana ZERO’s melodious soundtrack in the coming months.
After enacting a sequence of gruesome executions with the lasers housed in a science lab, the game’s samurai protagonist retreated to his humble residence inside of a run-down apartment building. As local news station headlines flickered across the walls of the home, the shinobi took a few sips of tea before fading into a cryptic — but certainly unsettling — dream sequence that looked to be related to a potential childhood flashback. The brain fog soon wore off and my hero was now sitting adjacent to a therapist who helped work through what had happened in the previous dream and mission. This was actually such a smart idea for an experience that is so fast-paced, as the details of what’s happening in the overarching narrative can be lost in the heat of the moment.
All in all, Katana ZERO looks to be an impressive addition to the recent surge of ninja games that have released; and the project’s polished one-shot-kill gameplay and time manipulation mechanics fuse to create a truly gratifying experience. Keep an eye out for the game, which is being published by Devolver Digital, when it releases April 18, 2019 on Nintendo Switch and PC.