New Year’s resolutions have about as much weight as committing to a diet; insisting that you’ll only be spectating at the casinos in Las Vegas and not playing, or that the gym membership you just bought is the best investment you’ve ever made. Forget all of that and start 2020 afresh by stocking up on the great titles available on the Nintendo Switch. Let’s start this off with one of the best games of 2019: Katana Zero.
It’s not exclusive as such, but Katana Zero could not be more at home than on Nintendo’s finest handheld device. You read that correctly: Katana Zero is almost perfect on the Switch. Since I got this some time ago, I checked out a few videos on the YouTubes and saw that a lot of people previously played it on the PC with a mouse. Sure, a mouse would work well for the controls, but joy-cons work just as well as the movements in the game are mostly horizontal or diagonal directions – nothing complicated. But, I’m getting ahead of myself. You’re reading this as you want a review, so let’s get stuck in.
You play the Zero of the title in the game, not because he’s a loser, but we don’t know who he is, nor does he. One thing is for sure is he’s a badass. He walks around in a kimono and classic geta – wooden Japanese shoes from the olden days. No one can pull this off like he can. It’s like the modern-day version of someone who wears sandals with socks: you simply don’t mess with these people. They’re dangerous.
Zero backs this up with his skills with a blade, and he doesn’t hesitate to take out henchmen with his sword in a heartbeat. You see, one of Zero’s greatest talents is his ability to manipulate time. He will live out a moment and upon his death, rewind to the start to do it all again until he gets it right. It’s like watching Groundhog Day on VHS as that’s how it’s all played out: a VHS cassette playbacks each moment as the game is evidently influenced by the 1980s. Forget all this nostalgia, it wasn’t that great a decade unless you like neon or the taste of hairspray.
At the start of each mission, Zero is tasked with the assassination of an individual. He gets a dossier on his target but knows nothing about them other than that, and that’s ideal as he needs to be disconnected and a cold-hearted killer to be so efficient. Dash through each level taking out hordes of enemies with your katana, and he doesn’t even flinch. By the time you get to the target, things literally slow down a bit, and there’s the option to engage a little by choosing some dialogue. The story takes a further turn as between missions he sees a psychiatrist who prescribes him a dose of medicine that helps with the time control. It’s also a platform for him to offload a little after a hard days work. After the shrink, he returns to his dingy apartment, has a cup of herbal tea and watches a samurai flick on his portable.
We’ll take a detour from the story as it’s something you should experience first hand rather than read in full in a review. The key point to take away is that Katana Zero plays really well. It’s bloody hard, I’ll say that, but as tricky as it gets, there was a moment where I wanted to give up and finished the game in a couple of nights. It is relatively short, but it’s more to do with my obsession to finish as I totally bought into the complete experience. In some respects, Katana Zero is a puzzle/strategy game; you’ll need to plan out each section like a chess game; dash forward to take out one goon only to have someone snipe from above. There are a few hairy moments where you can get stuck on one section for a little too long. There was one area that had me pulling what little hair I have as I could not do it. Kick a door, attack the gun-toting baddie, throw a statue at the guy on the stairs above, block his shotgun blast, then dash back to the armoured guard who’s just come through a doorway. That doesn’t entirely paint the best picture, but believe me: it was hard.
As you progress, you’ll encounter a few bosses. Most of them can be defeated once you learn their patterns, and as a 2D platformer, there’s not much to learn. However… there were a couple of bosses – the last one in particular, that were unbelievably hard. I must have died 40-50 times. Maybe even more. Then I had an epiphany (a YouTube video) and realised I had it all wrong. After I learnt the technique, I beat the boss in three attempts. That’s the only time I asked for help as I really wanted to finish the game. I had invested in the character, the story and, well, the gameplay.
Did I mention the soundtrack yet? Some tracks were completed by the chap who made the game as it’s mostly a solo effort – making it even more of an accomplishment. I do love my music, but I’m a little out of touch with genres, but I’d say this is sort of a synth-wave type thing. Research is merely a couple of letters into your search engine of choice, but look up Bill Kiley and LudoWic to get a taster.
As I said, I burnt through Katana Zero quite quickly as I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were moments of frustration as I briefly touched upon, but I’d say that this is one of the best games of 2019 without a doubt. I just wish there was more to it. But, and let’s put that in capitals: BUT, DLC is on the cards, and once you finish the game, you will be presented with a few doors that will unlock once the content is available. That reminds me, I should probably sign up for a newsletter or something when available as I’ll be all over it.
A bit sloppy for a first review, but I can’t endorse Katana Zero enough and encourage you to try it out at the earliest possible opportunity. Rewind selector.
Everyone favours themselves as a samurai. Do it in style and rinse and repeat with a wicked 80s infused time manipulating, amnesiac samurai assassin.
- Fantastic time manipulation to make the perfect play
- An excellent soundtrack throughout for those who like a bit of synth
- So amnesia is a bit of a cliche, but the story is pretty cool
- A few sections can get incredibly difficult
- The dialogue gets a bit colourful at times with a few too many f-bombs that it’s annoying
- Astonishingly short (but worth it)
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a copy of the game bought at the expense of the reviewer. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
Reviewed using Nintendo Switch.