Katana ZERO: Review (Switch)

Violent, unique, and downright beautiful, Askiisoft’s newest game, Katana ZERO, will have you slashing your way through enemies as a deep and intriguing story unfolds around you. Making their own attempt at the “one hit and you’re dead,” style of gameplay, Askiisoft adds their own unique twist to the format that makes Katana ZERO stand out amongst the rest. With no health bar and no power-ups or skill trees, your goal is to clear stages of enemies in quick and creative ways. From stage one to the final moments, there was never a time where combat strategy felt stale, keeping you coming back for more.

Set in a neo-noir landscape, you take control of a katana-wielding assassin who is given dossier after dossier naming his next target. Before each new target is assigned, you’ll sit through what appears to be a therapy session where the game’s dialogue choice system shines. Throughout these scenes, along with many others during the roughly eight hour campaign, you are able to answer the way you see fit. While these dialogue choices don’t drastically change the outcome of events in the game (albeit for one major decision which I won’t get into for spoiler purposes), they will be the driving force in how the story unfolds. With each set of dialogue moments, you’re given the chance to interrupt people or hear them out and deliver a more thoughtful response. The ability to add your own style to the main character is a feature I’ve always enjoyed, and the clever writing will have you yearning for your next conversation.

During each of these therapy sessions, before you’re given your next dossier, the “therapist” will administer a drug to your character called Chronos. Chronos allows the assassin to manipulate time and see into the future. The drug is used as a way to introduce the rewind mechanic which starts you at the beginning of your current stage after you’ve been killed. While it may seem at first glance that Katana ZERO’s one-hit-kill mechanic is punishing, the truth is due to the rewind-upon-death mechanic, you’re never beaten down to the point where you can’t figure out what you need to do. Using a trial and error approach will be your best bet as you slash through the enemies in each stage. Your katana will be your best friend but it won’t be enough to clear stages on its own. You’ll need to use your ability to slow time, roll, and pick up objects, such as knives and molotov cocktails, to clear all enemies in quick and innovative manners.

It’s a bathrobe… nothing more… nothing less.

It’s a bathrobe… nothing more… nothing less.

To keep things fresh and the player on their toes, Katana ZERO uses a variety of enemy types that will have you adjusting strategies on the run. These enemies range from people charging at you with only their bare fists, to people using widespread shotguns, and the frustrating shield wielders will have you rolling and jumping all over the place to avoid that dreaded one shot. Since there are no power-ups or skill trees, the abilities at your disposal remain the same from start to finish. The lack of these skill tree and power-up features can be detrimental as it could lead to combat becoming stale towards the end. Katana ZERO doesn’t suffer this fate as the fast-paced combat had me itching for what comes next in my last hours just as much as it did in my first couple of hours with the game.

While the smooth and quick combat will keep you coming back for more, the story is the true heart and soul. Without spoiling too much, because this game should be experienced knowing as little about the story as possible, things are not what they seem. As mentioned earlier, the dialogue choices will lead you to finding out more or less about the story depending on your choices. Your own level of curiosity directly leads to how much you find out about what’s really going on around you. Needless to say, once the veil is lifted, it’s almost impossible to not want to know the truth. Even with that desire to know the facts, there is still the opportunity to completely ignore the obviously questionable acts happening, and just ask as little about the truth as possible. Credit to the team at Askiisoft for creating a story that gives you the choice to learn more, while also providing a satisfying conclusion that will stick with you after your last target is assassinated.

Katana ZERO combines fast-paced, high stakes combat, with a wonderful art style, all set to a soundtrack that perfectly sets the mood for each and every stage. The gameplay will grab your attention but the story that unfolds will keep you going even in the face of multiple deaths. Whether you play docked or in handheld mode, the fact is once you start playing, you won’t want to put the controller down until you find out the truth. Simply put, Katana ZERO is worth every penny of it’s $15 price tag. Best of luck assassins.

So…things can get a  bit  bloody.

So…things can get a bit bloody.