Katana Zero is a game that immediately grabbed me with its tight, fast-paced gameplay and clear Hotline Miami influences. As an avid fan of the original Hotline Miami, I was eager to see what Askiisoft’s first commercial release had to offer. Taking the 2D action-platformer approach, Katana Zero has you eliminating all enemies in your way in order to reach the various targets. With that in mind, the biggest question comes down to whether or not the game holds up on its own merits or if it’s merely riding on the coattails of Hotline Miami.
Katana Zero takes place in a fictional cyberpunk future that slowly unravels in conjunction with the story. The game has you playing as an amnesiac samurai assassin capable of slowing down time and reflecting bullets with his sword. Storywise, Katana Zero heavily focuses on the samurai’s mysterious past, while throwing in strange dreams and confusing drug-induced hallucinations. I found the story to be mildly entertaining with its strange characters and slow-boiling amnesia plot. My favorite part was how the game tied its gameplay mechanics to the story in a seamless manner.
Mechanically, Katana Zero takes many elements from Hotline Miami, while deviating from it in numerous substantial ways. Taking any damage kills the player instantly, but it isn’t very frustrating due to the bite-sized levels. They often provide different approaches to taking down the enemies in a straightforward and simple manner. The player is able to slow down time, which often came at the cost of the pacing taking a heavy hit. At the end of each section, the game replays your actions in the form of real-time camera footage, allowing the player to see how the samurai actually moved.
Items can be thrown in a similar fashion to how they worked in Hotline Miami. However, they’re much less important due to the snappy sword attack that provides both offense and defense. Boss fights are few and far between and lack freedom compared to the regular levels. At times, they required pattern memorization in order to succeed in them. Regardless, the bosses weren’t too difficult and seemed to do more for the story than the gameplay.
Movement in Katana Zero is superb. The samurai’s moves are sharp and easy to control. With jumping, rolling, and slashing, the game simply nails the concept of the flow, which accentuates the fun factor of the fast and frantic gameplay. Admittedly, Katana Zero leans towards the easy side, but it always felt weighty due to the fragility of the player character.
Generally speaking, Askiisoft did a great job with the presentation. Delicate pixel art conveys the cyberpunk aesthetic perfectly, while the music successfully set the stage with its effective use of aggressive synthwave. However, the drama-heavy scenes were missing some impact due to disconnect between the drama and the character sprites. The lack of character portraits also limited the sense of involvement in the drama. Regardless, the game looks and sounds great despite these minor issues.
Katana Zero is a short but sweet experience that captures the stylistic flair of Hotline Miami mixed with a cyberpunk theme, while making a name for itself with its polished gameplay but without feeling tedious or overstaying its welcome. It’s a title that left me satisfied, but not amazed. Despite a slight lack of challenge and nuance, the game provided a fun, fast-paced experience that kept me hooked from beginning to end. Overall, Katana Zero is definitely a game worth playing for those who enjoy action-heavy platformers or mysterious cyberpunk samurai fever dreams.