We really didn’t need any more retro-style ninja games. I mean, we have The Messenger, Devolver Digital’s ode to the classic Ninja Gaiden games. And we also have Cyber Shadow coming from the publishers at Yacht Club Games. But between the two, we also got the surprising Katana Zero, a game that demands perfection in certain spots, but rewards players for reaching that point as they hack and slash with a nameless samurai, just trying to get through his day…
Said samurai is often hired to do jobs for employers. But they want it done the right way and provide a set of rules – namely, don’t talk to your targets. Inevitably, it’s your decision; and the more you feel like sparing a target for a few previous seconds, the more you might learn about your past.
The story is probably the weakest part of Katana Zero, mainly because it doesn’t quite reach the thankful resolution that you’re looking for. More than likely, the developers are saving that for the sequel. But no matter. Intense, fun hack and slash action remains, and there’s a lot that you can get done here.
Each stage requires you to get through in one piece, with little to no room for error. If you do screw up, an interesting VHS-style mechanic takes place, rewinding you back to the beginning. If you do make it through a stage in one piece, you’ll get a helpful little replay showing just how you got it done. You can skip it if need be.
The beginning stages of Katana Zero introduce you to the mechanics at hand, namely with hacking and slashing, defensive rolling (to get through laser traps and avoid incoming attacks) and throwing things. All of these become useful later on, especially as enemies come at you with guns and other dangerous weaponry. You’ll have to tactfully cut them down to size and get on to the next area.
While the story is somewhat cut short, watching how you interact with it is pretty neat. You can make a decision to be an impatient a-hole or hear things out and get more subtext. And things can actually change within Katana Zero’s world, depending how it plays out. It’s pretty cool, and offers some pretty good replay value. As if the game’s high difficulty didn’t do that enough.
Along with pinpoint controls that make it a lot of fun to hack enemies and use abilities to save yourself a little strife, Katana Zero also boasts a terrific presentation straight out of the old-school notebook. The characters look great and the level designs are tricky enough to keep you coming back for more. There’s also a great party stage where you have to use stealth to your advantage, and it’s not nearly as tiresome as you might think. In fact, it’s kind of cool to see your character head bang for a few seconds.
Throw in a fun retro-style soundtrack that you listen to during your slashing sessions, and you have a wonderful action game that rounds things out nicely. Sure, more could’ve been done with the story, and the difficulty may be slightly up there for some players. But Katana Zero stands out amongst it competitors with style, humor and entertaining action. And for some, that will no doubt be enough, even with all the time you may have invested in Messenger. A good ninja fan should own both of these. 4/5 Bibles.