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  1. #1

    [NSW] Katana ZERO

    I wasn't particularly interested in this title, but I had enough funds in my eShop wallet, and a lazy post-Easter Monday triggered an impulse buy.

    In Katana ZERO you play as a samurai assassin. Stages are composed by self-contained rooms you have to clear without getting hit once, as everything will outright kill you. Your katana can bounce back bullets with a well-timed strike, and to help you with that, you can slow down time for a short while; during the slowdown everyone and every action will be slowed down, you won't be able to attack multiple times or have a larger invincibility window when rolling; slowing down time will help in some of the stickier situations, but it won't let you walk across rooms with impunity. Your samurai can jump rather long distances, roll to avoid attacks, and sneak around. Stealth is a very minor part in Katana ZERO and only really required in single stage.
    Offensive abilities center around a katana able to kill everything (except bosses and armoured targets) in one swing. Random objects like bottles can be picked up and thrown to either confuse or kill enemies. Your samurai also opens doors with such strenght that nearby enemies are killed by the shockwave.

    Controls work great, with every action having a good weight and feedback. Movement takes a little while to get used to, the samurai does a small dash when beginning to move, and if you want more precise movement you need to enter sneak mode, but this is way slower than normal movement. I'm playing with the analog stick as I find inputting attack directions is easier than with the d-pad, and I'd wish being able to control movement speed with that rather than with an extra button. The only other gripe I have with the controls is the very slight delay in rolling, but these are very minor objections that don't detract anything from the game. If you die in Katana ZERO (and you will), it's due to your errors, and not faulty controls.

    This is not to say the game is completely without blame, however. Katana ZERO's approach is "error = death -> start over again", and I'm not the biggest fan of this structure. A single error, whether by a botched input or wrong strategy, results in death, resetting the room to its original state. Constant deaths can be frustrating, especially in the few rooms that need pixel-perfect accuracy with rolls or when gauging inertia after a dash. Clearing a difficult room never really left me ecstatic, I felt relieved not to have to go through it again. It's a strange feeling to explain, you are pleased to have overcome the obstacle but overcoming it doesn't bring open joy, more of "good riddance" reaction.
    Some of the least appealing parts are the few boss battles scattered across the various chapters because not only you die at the slightest mistake, but often these battle require you to know what is going to happen next, otherwise you'll end up in nigh-inescapable situation that will force you to restart the whole encounter.

    However, I can't deny that I had two sessions with Katana ZERO and both sessions kept me glued to the screen for hours, constant deaths might be frustrating but it's the kind of frustration which isn't strong enough to drive you away from the game.
    And I also kept playing because Katana ZERO swept the proverbial rug from under my feet and surprised me at every tun. Describing what happens in any detail is a disservice to the game, and it's something you need to play for yourself to experience it. Let's just say that even the dialogue choices have a most interesting twist, and the story will never be boring.

    Katana ZERO looks amazing. I could go on and describe how every frame in an animation oozes style, or how every single element is full of detail yet the screen remains readable all the time with proper fore- and back- ground separation, or how some backgrounds are small pieces of art, or how some enemy goons have randomised elements to break the monotony between deaths, or how every single stage has its own identity, but you just need to take a look at some videos or screenshots for that. There are a lot of effects, screen shakes, distortions, and noise, and everything can be turned off in the options menu. I'm a bit less enthusiastic about the music because I'm not a fan of elctro/dance/whatever it's called, but it does fit the game well.

    I still have to complete the game, but judging from chapter names I'm very close to the end after around five hours, which is makes Katana ZERO kinda short...if, of course, there aren't any goodies after the first playthrough.

  2. #2
    Well, I wrote I thought I was close to the ending, and in fact I was...10 minutes away from it.

    Katana ZERO doesn't really end though, the final cutscene teases a sequel, which is kinda disappointing considering how short the game is: from start to finish it was about five hours.
    There are no extra modes, only the ability to replay single stages. There are five hidden keys to unlock alternate weapons and abilities; this and experimenting with dialogue choices seem to be the only incentives to replay the game, unless of course you want to try a no-death run of the whole game just for the sake of it.

    Maybe a more elaborate post will follow after I replay a few stages just to check out if anything changes, but for now: do I recommend Katana ZERO? Yeah. As said in the previous post I'm not a big fan of immediate deaths after a single error, but the game keeps you glued to the screen because you want to beat it and because you end up genuinely interested in what kind of crazy twist the game will throw at you. However, keep in mind Katana ZERO is very short and replayability may be low, depending on your tastes.

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