Katana Zero is a Retro-Fueled 2D Ninja Platformer With Plenty of Style to Spare
Askiisoft and Devolver Digital's Katana Zero looks like it will bring equal amounts of style and substance to Switch and PC owners in April.
When it comes to recent trends in games as of late, one of the absolute best trends has been the resurgence of ninja-themed games. Last year, The Messenger blended the old-school gameplay of Ninja Gaiden with challenging Metroidvania gameplay, while more recently titles like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice took fast-paced combat to new (and more difficult) levels. That trend for excellent games that put you in the garb of a ninja-like character is continuing with the release of Katana Zero this spring, and from what I played of the game so far, it seems like it will offer a ninja-themed experience with a style to call its own.
During PAX East 2019 in Boston, I got the chance to check out a gameplay demo of the 2D action platformer Katana Zero ahead of its release in a few weeks on Nintendo Switch and PC. From my brief time with the game on Nintendo Switch from the show floor, it’s already easy to tell that Katana Zero has the potential to be an indie hit this spring with plenty of action and flair for players to soak in when it releases next month.
For the most part, Katana Zero will feel familiar to those that played Hotline Miami. The game features a similar gameplay style where players as The Dragon have to take out rooms filled with enemies and traps to progress through each level. While there are some surface level similarities to that earlier Devolver-published title, the style and movement of Katana Zero is completely different, as The Dragon has a wide range of abilities to utilize in the game’s fast-paced combat.
As the title implies, The Dragon is armed with a deadly katana that he can use to slice and dice enemies, while also giving players the ability to perform a dodge roll, wall jumps, and more. The Dragon can also make use of his ability to slow down time, giving players more flexibility in getting through obstacles and taking out several enemies at once with precise timing.
“Katana Zero felt as much like a puzzle game as it did an action game.”
From a gameplay standpoint, Katana Zero feels incredibly fluid and, much like Hotline Miami, it will require players to have fast reflexes and think strategically about how to progress through an environment. In a lot of ways while I was playing Katana Zero, it felt as much like a puzzle game as it did an action game, as I worked my way through each environment and trying to memorize enemy placements, where traps were, and what was the best path forward to make it out alive.
This especially is reinforced by the fact that in the game, each “run” of a level is presented as The Dragon trying to map out the best course of action to take out the enemies in a room. If you die, the game then “rewinds” to the beginning of the level (like a VHS tape), and when you successfully make it past an area, the game then accepts that run as the actual course of action that The Dragon was able to accomplish the mission successfully. It’s a smart shift in the dynamic of the game’s trial-by-death moments, and made the act of dying feel less routine while also fitting in with the game’s pseudo-80s style.
Outside of its combat and slick visuals, one of the other interesting features of Katana Zero is that during its cutscenes and character interactions, players have the option of engaging with a unique dialogue system that doesn’t just have different branching paths, but is also influenced by timing. When speaking to other characters in the cutscenes, there is a timer that allows you to interrupt the flow of conversation and get answers more quickly, while letting a character speak will often open new conversation paths and choices. While it took me a little bit of time to get adjusted to it at first, I quickly found this dialogue system refreshing for the fact that it rewarded paying attention to what the characters were saying, and it also made me more considerate of the options in front of me and what their consequences might be.
“Katana Zero so far looks like one of this spring’s most promising indie games.”
While Katana Zero is easy to admire for its retro aesthetics and fast-paced gameplay, what I played of the game at PAX East was encouraging for the fact that the game seems to have an equal portion of style and substance instead of favoring one over the other. As much as the moment-to-moment gameplay felt satisfying and action-packed, I was also surprised at the game’s deeper focus on storytelling, and even having some funnier moments among all the bloodshed and violence. Katana Zero so far looks like one of this spring’s most promising indie games, and it’s easy to say that its style cuts deep.
Katana Zero will be heading to Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac on April 18, 2019.