Katana Zero is a minimalist 2D action platformer from Askiisoft and Devolver Digital, where you play a mysterious assassin struggling to remember who he is and what lead to where he is now.
The pixel art mixed with the 90’s VHS style presentation and the synthwave soundtrack makes Katana Zero’s aesthetic very strong. And it uses the VHS presentation as a mechanic in the game. When you’re playing through a level, if you die, there is a rewind effect that takes you back to the beginning of the level to try again. After you successfully complete a level, there’s a black and white playback so you can watch your brilliant moves to marvel at how you were finally able to complete the level. Each time you progress further in the level you’ll discover new enemy placements and other challenges that will be difficult to master the first time through. Each time you die and start the level over again, you’ll be one step closer to mastering the level. But the fact that you restart the level every time you die eventually starts playing into the story in interesting ways I won’t spoil.
The core of the gameplay stays simple throughout. You’re armed with a Katana that you can hack and slash your way through any enemy that gets in your way. But there’s also a time slow-down mechanic that allows you to perfectly time deflecting bullets back at the enemies that shot them. And there’s also a dodge/roll that grants invincibility frames. And that’s really it. The game throws in a few levels that break up the formula in small ways, but for the most part, you’ll master the use of the three basic mechanics to successfully navigate each of the games levels.
And for as simple as it is, it never gets tiring. If you mess up and die, the game is quick to rewind to the start of the mission to put you back in the action for another try.
This is a seriously impressive game that incentivizes replaying the levels utilizing different dialogue options and a twisty story that may take multiple playthroughs to completely understand. And it’s that story that ended up being the surprise draw that kept me playing.
I won’t spoil any of it for you, but discovering the mystery behind what lead the assassin to where he is now is definitely a highlight.
If you’ve played Katana Zero, let us know what you thought of it in the comments!