Devolver Digital are fast becoming the go to publisher for quality indie games. They’ve certainly got an eye for it, with games like BroForce, Red Strings Club and, more recently Gris all being hugely popular. They never really seem to follow a certain theme either, and that is also the case with their newest game, Katana ZERO. Due for release in March, it’s a retro-styled action platformer featuring a ninja that can eliminate anyone with his katana.
Katana ZERO is one stylish game. The 16-bit retro styled graphics are absolutely phenomenal, and with it being set in a cyberpunk city, the artists could have a lot of fun designing the settings and scenery. All the characters in the game, both enemies and friends are all pixel perfect, with a cutesy, cartoony feel but topped off with a tiny bit of grit to give them some real character. There’s also a wonderful soundtrack – a more targeted one for the cutscenes, but when you’re running through levels, gutting whoever is unlucky enough to stand in your way, there’s some excellent techno tracks thrown in to heighten your concentration and make for some amazing kills.
While I was playing through the initial demo, I thought there was only one way to approach things. Run around, use my sword and leave a pile of corpses. Then, there was a level where I found a bunch of items I could throw at my enemies – this made seeing them off much easier than the run and slash my way through. But then there was more, I didn’t even have to really go through them at all. Instead, I could just jump through a skylight, lead them upstairs into a laser trap and kill them that way. I never found a ‘correct’ way of doing things, there were just frequently ‘additional’ ways of doing things, which meant I could replay the level a couple of times just to see how much better a ninja I could be.
Glass bones and paper skin
It’s still two months away from release, so Askiisoft have time to refine Katana ZERO, which is good because there are definitely some aspects that need improving. Most of all, I’d say that the enemy hitboxes don’t feel quite right. There have been a number of times where I was running up to an enemy, katana ready to slice, only to completely whiff, then they punch me and I die. It is compounded by the Dungreed-esque aim to swing your blade, which I’m not overly a fan of. It works in Dungreed because when you swing your weapon, you don’t move. In Katana ZERO, you do a quick dash to whichever direction to try to make the slash seem more epic. It looks amazing, but it does throw off the aim a little which can make sweeping through long hallways of enemies particularly infuriating, especially when it’s one hit and you’re out.
Another small thing – and I do mean small when I say this – is that the cursor doesn’t disappear during cutscenes. This is a microscopic thing, but it genuinely threw me off and annoyed me, especially as it has no function in a cutscene. You can’t use the mouse to select dialogue options or anything, and it’s not themed to fit the game, it’s just the generic, rubbish Windows cursor, so it looks awful. It makes screenshots look terrible and it makes videos look crap too.
The Final Word
Katana ZERO isn’t quite there yet – and that’s okay. It’s got some top functionality, great level design and some absolutely beautiful graphics, but it is marred slightly by a few minor bugs that, given the game is still two months away from being completed, is still pretty fantastic. The game feels mostly ready to ship out, and it’s definitely one I can’t wait for the full release of.