Game: Katana Zero
Platform: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch
Rating: M for Mature
By: Devonte Griffiths
The core premise behind Devolver Digital’s most recent game, Katana Zero, is combining a multitude of different ideas and hoping for the best results. For the gameplay, this creates a constant exhilarating rush of action that builds on itself in every level. On the other hand, the story doesn’t manage to mesh its ideas as well.
You play as a samurai who is ordered to carry out assassinations every night for his employer. Each night, he also has nightmares that you can talk over with your psychiatrist. Though initially treating the jobs as simple work, the player eventually unveils the reasons for each assassination while uncovering hidden facets of the world. The story tends to become more bloated as it goes on, with more confusing concepts being thrown at the player without giving them time to take it all in. Some important characters just appear with little explanation, expecting the player to just go on without questioning it. The story is dark and meant to be initially perplexing but, even after multiple playthroughs, the story falters due to its over ambition.
However, the game’s ambition is clearly shown through its presentation. The game’s pixelated graphics are lush and detailed enough to make everything clear, no matter how fast the player blazes through a level. The game also contains great bits of attention to detail that make the world feel real, like guys enjoying a game of poker before you barge in the front door or talking about myths that they’ve heard around town. The soundtrack is phenomenal and helps make every scenario the player is put in feel distinct. The game’s pause screens and level select screens invoke the feeling of using a VHS player. Alongside the constant use of bright neon colors, this game truly invokes the feeling of being a “retro” game.
The main gameplay consists of using your skills to eliminate all the enemies in each room. Both you and your enemies die in one hit and dying causing you to immediately be sent back to the beginning of the level. Though you only mainly use your sword, there are a few more tools at your disposal. You can temporarily slow down time around you, and throw objects within the environment. The levels are well constructed and encourage players to plan out their moves carefully while also being open to improvise a bit. The diverse set of enemies also force players to switch up their strategies in order to succeed. The game is just frustrating enough that you’ll die constantly, but get the feeling that you’ll make it if you just try one more time. Paired with the game’s excellent music, clearing out rooms of enemies stays interesting no matter what environment you’re placed in.
The story is around 6 hours long, with multiple different routes and endings that can potentially double the length of the game. For only $15, the game is definitely worth its price. As a whole, Katana Zero has exceptional moment-to-moment gameplay that evolves over the course of the game that is slightly held down by its overambitious, convoluted narrative.