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Katana Zero Review

Stylish, fast, and fun, but not enough of it.

by Kyle Hanson

Katana Zero is one of those games that impresses you from the moment you pick it up to play. Gorgeous pixel art is layered on top of interesting and challenging gameplay that pulls from some of the best games out there. And it all comes together with a heavy emphasis on style and story that you might not expect when you first boot it up. But in that lies Katana Zero’s biggest issues, with the story sometimes taking too much focus off the blistering and enjoyable gameplay. And with a shorter than expected runtime, the whole thing feels more like a tease for what could be, or what’s to come, rather than a complete experience of its own.

Taking place in some unknown future, the world of Katana Zero has been rocked by war resulting in a dystopian nightmare of neon, drugs, and death. You work as an assassin, using your drug-induced ability to predict the future to map out your missions before ever actually placing yourself in any real danger. As the player, this story element actually impacts the gameplay by giving you endless retries on each new stage. Die a bunch? Oh well, just rewind back to the beginning and try again. Is an enemy too tough for you? Slow time down and take him out. It’s stuff we’ve seen in games before, but it mixes very well here and having a story hook behind it makes it really interesting.

Katana Zero Review

Once the novelty of this wears off Katana Zero becomes a somewhat standard, but still high quality 2D stealth action experience. You enter a stage, there’s enemies scattered around it, and you need to take them all out. Yourself and all the enemies (barring unique situations like boss fights) take just one hit to die. This means your runs need to be close to perfect in order to get through. All those retries could be annoying to some, but plentiful checkpoints and the seamless gameplay means it never becomes too frustrating. Instead it builds that perfect mix of determination and focus where you end up saying “one more try” over and over again until you beat the whole thing.

Katana Zero leaves a solid impression, but it’s not clear yet if it will be a lasting one.

Your arsenal through these missions is kept straightforward and simple. You have your sword plus objects you can pick up and throw for long-range attacks. Beyond this it’s just your skills at stealth and fighting. Your moves include standard stuff like wall-jumping, but also the ability to deflect bullets back at enemies with a simple sword swipe. Slowing down time, dodging an attack, then killing an enemy with their own bullet feels satisfying every single time, and moments like this will happen a lot throughout Katana Zero.

Wedged in between these moments of blissful stealth action are story beats that you engage in for however long you like. Phone calls, therapy sessions, and random conversations happen often throughout Katana Zero, and while there are a lot of them, you can always interrupt everyone to get back to the action. This has consequences though, annoying other characters and locking off story elements that expand on the universe and your place within it. Jamming on the A button may get you back into the gameplay you enjoy more, but patience rewards you quite a bit.

Not enough though, unfortunately. Katana Zero delves deep into its universe and story, but not quite enough to justify the investment it requires. The game lasts a few hours, and then ends on a “To be Continued” note that makes it feel like this was simply a taste of what’s to come. The story hits a lot of high points and does have a conclusion of its own, but it still feels like we’re only beginning to unravel the mysteries here, and there’s certainly more to do.

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Everything about Katana Zero feels polished and lovingly crafted. The gameplay is seamless and tons of fun. The pixel art is gorgeous, featuring colors that pop amidst the dark and dreary world. The music perfectly sets the stage for the action on-screen. The story is deeper than it first appears, though this is where Katana Zero falters. All of these things are fantastic and well made, but there’s not enough of them. The game leaves you wanting more, but not necessarily in a good way.

Replayability could be the savior here, but only to a small degree. Yes the levels offer some alternative methods of attack. Some levels could be pretty replayable, but Katana Zero doesn’t work toward that goal. Almost every stage requires that you kill everyone, limiting your choices as to how to get through. You can always speedrun things, or just try different paths and techniques, but there could have been a lot more here to justify coming back once you hit the end credits.

The Verdict

Katana Zero is a fantastic 2D action game, it’s a great stealth game, and it has an interesting story and universe. The action is fast, fluid, and will have you coming back for more over and over again. But this is just a taste of what could be. Replayability through the story doesn’t translate into the gameplay. Levels are crafted more for one-and-done style runs than more open and strategic attacks. Katana Zero leaves a solid impression, but it’s not clear yet if it will be a lasting one.

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Katana Zero

  • Available On: PC, Switch
  • Published By: Devolver Digital
  • Developed By: Askiisoft
  • Genre: Action Adventure
  • US Release Date: April 18th, 2019
  • Reviewed On: PC
  • Quote: "Katana Zero is a fantastic 2D action game, it's a great stealth game, and it has an interesting story and universe. The action is fast, fluid, and will have you coming back for more over and over again. But this is just a taste of what could be."
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