Today we’re going to talk about a game that I’ve been waiting to play for quite some time. A game about second chances and facing overwhelming odds to stand victorious. It’s one of the best games about a sword-wielding samurai I’ve ever seen!
So it’s finally time – let’s discuss why you need to play… Katana Zero *fart noise* Devolver Digital has been on a massive streak of releasing cream of the crop games lately, and Katana Zero fits right in alongside them. You play as a no-nonsense hitman who takes contract kills from a shady government agency, and let’s just say you’re really good at your job. There’s huge Hotline Miami vibes here with the bright neon aesthetic, catchy electronic music and VHS tape style menus and overlays. Of course there’s the whole decamating warehouses of baddies and tons of gratuitous violence thing too.
But I would argue that Katana Zero does almost everything Hotline Miami did even better. Let’s break that down a little bit. As I said the flow of gameplay is very similar, you’ll need to clear every room before proceeding to the next and enemy AI can be pretty tricky to take down sometimes. Everyone dies in one hit, including yourself, but you don’t have the luxury of carrying a gun in this game, so success takes some careful planning. Luckily they’ve added a huge saving grace with the slowdown mechanic, so you can deflect enemy bullets back at them, or get yourself out of a tight jam with much more leniency.
It’s on a cooldown timer so you can’t use it forever, but it’s a big help in making the dangers around every corner feel more manageable. On top of this you can pick up and throw items to be lethal from a bit more of a distance, and while simple things like bottles and lamps get the job done, they also throw in tactical goodies, like smoke bombs to sneak up unseen, or remote controlled mines to blow up groups of people at once. These are welcome additions because you have lasers, turrets and crushers to deal with as well. Because of the sideview perspective however, you can’t really do the “pop your head out and wait behind a wall” strategy that normally worked in Hotline Miami, once a henchman is aware of your presence, it’s pretty hard to lose them, and you either have to think fast or use the environment to your advantage. Most of the time going in guns ablazing isn’t the best option here.
Of course fast respawns is the name of the game so it never feels slow or frustrating when you inevitably get slaughtered. Katana Zero is pretty tough, but I definitely wouldn’t call it cheap or impossible, it’s just the right amount of challenge. What I think really sells this satisfying gameplay loop is the developer’s attention to detail in the incredible art style. I first heard about Katana Zero back when Owlboy came out and they listed it as upcoming hi-bit era game on their website, and even then I remember thinking it looked gorgeous. But the flashy attack animations aren’t the only things that sets it apart, even their ability to use dynamic lighting depending on the situation or show sprawling landscapes help Katana Zero to feel like a cut above.
The game will keep switching up the setpieces too so it never gets stale and you’re always looking forward to what crazy locations it’ll take you to next. Hotline Miami was known for its addictive and responsive gameplay, but it really didn’t look that fantastic, and the story was an absolute mess. Here it really feels like this is what the genre can be capable of, and it also utilizes its visuals to tell a gripping narrative.
I think I’d have to put this story on the level of Iconoclasts, where you wouldn’t really expect that much depth and nuance out of an indie game but it somehow rivals that of AAA’s with inflated budgets. The unnamed protagonist suffers from nightmares, but gets treatment from his psychiatrist who injects him with a drug called Chronos, which you find out as the story progresses explains why you’re able to slow down time and even retry each level if you fail. It essentially allows you to time-travel, and this is a cool way to explain mechanics within the game’s world, but it also is used to drive the story forward.
There’s a section where you’re trying to get into the VIP area of online casinos, so you can play a roulette wheel and manipulate time to make sure you win every bet. If you guess wrong, you can just rewind until you clean out the dealer. It’s a clever concept and really adds some crazy twists later on that I won’t spoil. It makes for an overall much more coherent and enjoyable experience because there’s something you’re working toward, not just clearing out buildings for the heck of it.
The dialogue will have multiple options depending on how fast you answer, and you can change conversations or even alter how the game will play out based on how you respond. For example, this receptionist is really annoying and talks your ear off, so you can interrupt her to get straight to the action, but if you do, she’ll sick more guards on you as you’re about to leave. But if you decide to be nice and hear her out, you can leave scott free.
Or here this character named V asks to borrow your sword, and if you give it to him you have to start the next level without it, making it a lot harder on yourself. You can even unlock a secret final boss fight if you pick the right choices, there’s more than meets the eye here. You’ll get different targets throughout the game, but eventually you realize there’s a much deeper conspiracy going on, and because of the nature of your nightmares, sometimes you question what’s actually reality or not. It’s a trippy game, but as I said, much easier to follow than Hotline’s convoluted exchanges, and you actually meet characters that you care about along the way and want to see how it all turns out in the end. If there’s anything that isn’t quite as good as its influences, it’s the soundtrack, but that’s kind of like comparing a 9 to a perfect 10 – Hotline Miami has some of the best video game music of all time.
Katana Zero still has some real danceable tunes, especially the one in the Chinatown level. I also love that your character puts his headphones on before he gets down to business in a stage, what is this Baby Driver? There’s even secrets to unlock after beating the game, and a pseudo-new game+ mode where you can use different swords you’ve earned to change up how to tackle various obstacles. I will say it’s a little on the short side, but this bonus content drastically adds to its replayability.
I can’t recommend Katana Zero enough, its a unique experience that really refines the brutal difficulty we’ve seen in other indie classics. So if you’re into neo-noir style adventures with lots of twists and turns as well as cosplay-wearing ninja renegades, then you need to play Sekir – I mean Katana Zero. Hey thanks so much for watching! If you’re really liking what you’re seeing from this channel, consider chipping in on Patreon! You’ll gain access to all kinds of extra content, like updates on current projects, newsletters of underrated games I recommend, or even getting a special shoutout like Josh J, because when things seem gray, he just brightens my day!
I’ll see you guys next time, stay frosty my friends!