Live. Die. Repeat. That is the very essence of Katana Zero from the moment the action starts. Let an enemy hit you and you die, get struck by a bullet and you die, roll at the wrong moment into a trap and you die. Any wrong move and you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the section you’re in to try again. This sounds like a slog and may be unappealing to some, but don’t let that put you off; Katana Zero is an early contender for one of the most entertaining games of 2019.
Katana Zero is a hyper-violent 2D action platformer that emphasises some strategic planning and learning from your mistakes. Levels are comprised of individual scenes through which you lay waste to those that stands in your way. The main character is essentially the ultimate killing machine, but he’s also vulnerable. Thankfully the story gives this glass cannon of a protagonist unlimited chances to get through a scene. So yes, there’s trial and error, but every death builds a path to success as you learn more about the layout of each stage, the enemy types, and their placements. Even with all the knowledge that is accrued, it’s useless if you’re not quick enough to act.
Time is the overarching element that permeates every layer of Katana Zero including the action and the story. You’ll need to be fast enough to activate slow motion so you can parry bullets back towards enemies before they hit, or read a situation quickly enough to perfect that roll through an enemy shield so you can attack from behind. When you first start playing you may think it impossible to pull off some of the moves required in certain situations, like busting through a door and closing the gap to an auto turret as it opens fire on you, but you soon get the hang of it. You’ll be rolling past bullets in slow-mo or leaping over an enemy and slicing at them in no time. It doesn’t take long to transition from amateur swordsman to a skilled warrior.
The appeal of Katana Zero is really getting to feel like the ultimate warrior as you start to pass through levels with ease, the sense of satisfaction when a plan comes together. There are moments where you will be stuck on what to do next and how to progress, but it doesn’t take long to figure out the next step. The whole experience flows together so well that it’s hard to pick any major flaws.
Some people do find pixel art games off-putting but the art style suits Katana Zero just fine, and actually helps to enhance the over the top violence in my opinion. Blood spatters the walls, body parts fly, and explosions rip through corridors. Having that 2D view really shows the impact of your actions through a stage, and shows why the main character has the reputation he does. It’s not just the action that benefits either. Katana Zero is punctuated with slower scenes where the story is expanded upon with these scenes ranging from brutal to tender moments. Each is very well done especially when exploring the game’s thematic time loop. Then you have the soundtrack. In game, the source of the music is the headphones your character wears, similar to Baby in the movie Baby Driver, and a lot of the music fits the levels perfectly.
The story itself can be a bit hard to grasp at certain times and a lot of the relationships between characters are left fairly ambiguous. There is a diverging path in the story where one end leads to a conclusion while the other leads to more questions.