Tag Archives: katana zero

My Favorite Katana Zero Character Is This Hapless Goon I Killed Near The Start Of The Game

I’d heard stories about Strong Terry. Whispers. Rumors. Wide-eyed tales of his boldest feats. He’d be the one to bring me down, they all said. The beloved big boy who never skipped leg day would stomp all over me, even though I’m a cold-blooded samurai assassin. I wouldn’t stand a chance. Except then I killed him without even realizing it.

This all happened to me early in Katana Zero, a cyberpunk samurai game in which you can manipulate time. Its action sequences are sublime, each room a little puzzle you have to solve using a mixture of planning, wits, and improvisation. Every fight is a dance where one wrong move means brutal death. It’s like Hotline Miami if the main character was on even more cocaine. But Kotaku contributor Keza MacDonald already wrote about that. I want to talk about Katana Zero’s writing.

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The central narrative is purposefully inscrutable to achieve an effect; you play as a samurai who’s addicted to a drug that gives him the power to slow down time, but it also fries the heck out of his brain. He—like you—doesn’t know much about his past, or even his present, beyond the fact that he receives regular injections from mysterious benefactors who tell him to kill specific targets each day. The game uses this framing device and glitchy audiovisual effects to achieve a uniquely grimy, foreboding feeling rooted in your character’s irreparably addled state of mind. Time skips. Memories slowly unfurl themselves over time. That part is rad.

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What ends up unfolding is a mystery box story that’s compelling while you’re experiencing it, but that ultimately rings hollow. There are no real emotional stakes, save for your character’s attachment to a little girl who’s both a cliche and the walking embodiment of emotional manipulation. The game ends on a cliffhanger, with some central characters barely introduced, let alone fleshed out.

The game does have several smart little touches that more successfully made me care about Katana Zero’s world. Its narrative is excessively dark most of the time, but it balances its tone with humor that is, well, still pretty darn grim. This brings us back to Strong Terry. If you chill outside of rooms before charging in and severing tens of heads from an equal number of necks with balletic grace, enemies will sometimes chat amongst themselves. In one of the game’s early levels, I overheard two baddies arguing over who’d win in a fight: me, the ruthless killer who’d been devastating their ranks, or Strong Terry, the tough guy with a heart of gold who never skipped leg day. I figured he’d be a boss or something, perhaps later in the game.

One level later, I burst into a random room and cut down a random dude. I was about to kick down the door into the next room when another guy ran in. “WHAT DID YOU DO TO STRONG TERRY?” he bellowed as he stood over the guy’s extremely decapitated body. Then he swore vengeance on me, but before he could even complete his sentence, I cut him down too. I laughed and figured that was the end of it.

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It wasn’t. In between levels, your character returns to his apartment. There, you can drink tea and watch the news. After recounting my latest grisly crime, the newscaster then made specific mention of the fact that beloved local mainstay Strong Terry had died in the attack. Towards the end of the game, I encountered an armed soldier eulogizing Strong Terry. “RIP Strong Terry,” he said. “You’re lifting with Baby Jesus now.” The soldier he was talking to said he’d been “saving a bullet” for me for what I did to Strong Terry.

Katana Zero kept this gag running for my entire playthrough, and I admire the commitment. I talked to other people who missed it entirely, which made me appreciate it even more. But the joke is also clever on a macro level, since it adds to the feeling the game is trying to create. Your character is an utterly remorseless drug-fueled killer. Maybe these enemies are individuals with their own lives, names, and faces, but he doesn’t see it. They’re just bodies. Some are big and slow, like Strong Terry, while others are nimble and deceptively dangerous, like the pompadour-sporting team of “Skinny Rickies.” You can witness them all having their own council meeting—just before slaughtering them. Your character views all of this as dispassionately as, well, somebody playing a video game.

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You can interrupt people when they’re talking about this stuff, too. When your character dies, he just rewinds time, so you might see the same conversation begin to play out 10 or 20 times. When I was playing, I’d listen to them through to the end once, but after that, I’d slice up hapless baddies and their buddies before they had time to get a word in edgewise. The game responds to this behavior in a fun way: When you take your sword to somebody while they’re talking, letters spill out of their speech bubbles like spurts of blood. Dialogue shares this interruption system. When characters are talking at you, you can hammer a big red button, allowing you to rage at people to get to the point, to give you answers, or to give you drugs. If you wait on pressing that red button, you’re presented with more considered dialogue options. At first, I tended to wait, but after I killed Strong Terry and his heartbroken buddy, it began to feel truer to my character to just charge through conversations—to scatter words, thoughts, and ideas like so many bodies.

Source: Kotaku.com

A Cyberpunk Ninja Game Where You Manipulate Time

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

After talking my way past the receptionist at a grotty hotel in Katana Zero, I stand in the elevator at the entrance to a heavily guarded floor, watching goons patrol back and forth. One’s got a shotgun, another a knife, another a pistol. I formulate a plan, then burst through the doors, slicing through all three of them with my sword before another rushes me and knocks me over. Shit. Try again. This time I’m shot by a stray bullet. Again. Dodged too soon. Again. Mistimed a sword slash and got punched to death. Again. Again. Again.

In Katana Zero, one hit kills both you and your enemies. The goal is to slice through all the goons in each compact area without taking that hit, making your way through nightclubs, warehouses, hotels, and casinos to wherever your ultimate target is hiding. They might have guns, but you’re a cyberpunk ninja. You’re quicker, deadlier and, after a few attempts at the same level, basically prescient. You know where your target is going to be and what they’re going to do. This lets you be creative, setting traps with explosives or using throwing knives to trick enemies into coming running.

Katana Zero, a 2D action-platformer out today for Switch and PC, revolves around a time-manipulation idea that cleverly envelops both the story and the way you play. You play as a bathrobe-clothed samurai in a grimly pessimistic future city, a contract killer dependent on a drug dispensed by a sympathetic-seeming psychiatrist. The drug gives you the power to see forwards and backwards in time, letting you rewind after every death and slow down time to deflect bullets, but also prompts distressing hallucinations. After your grisly assignments you return to your crappy, filthy apartment with its perpetually partying neighbors, drink a cup of herbal tea and pass out on the couch.

I love Katana Zero. It’s as if Hotline Miami were redone as a side-scrolling action-puzzle-platformer, with a touch of Gunpoint’s clever enemy manipulation. It tells an unexpectedly compelling future-noir story with a dead-eyed, stylized, nihilistic violence that reminds me of the movie Drive. Its combination of detailed, excellently animated pixel art, retro-futuristic neon and a VHS tape filter is inspired. After you clear every room, you see a security-footage replay of your murder spree on a black-and-white tape. Each successful run is the product of several failed ones, so when you play it back, it makes you look superhumanly good, as if you’re able to anticipate each bullet and strike before it happens. Which, of course, you are.

Without getting too specific, as time goes on your samurai becomes more and more unmoored in time, prompting him to question the origins of the drug he depends upon. At one point you’re glitching back and forwards in time so much that it becomes confusing and unsettling, which is exactly the intended effect. When you’re not slicing dudes up, you can manipulate time in conversations, too, trying again until you get past a nosy receptionist or goad a boss into a reckless move. I didn’t expect there to be much talking in this game, but it’s got a fresh twist on conversation. You can interrupt characters mid-sentence, or listen to them longer to come up with different questions or responses. As you find out more about the drug the plot takes several disturbing turns that left me squinting at the escalating, occasionally grimace-worthy violence.

I devoured Katana Zero in a day. It’s clearly the first in a planned series—the story ends on a cliffhanger, and leaves plenty of questions unanswered—but I didn’t feel short-changed. There’s a lot to digest. My sole problem with it is the story’s use of children for cheap emotional impact, a cyberpunk trope I’d quite happily see die. But hey, at least it’s not full of dead or brutalized naked women (I’m looking at you, Altered Carbon).

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The way my life is now—small children, demanding job, etc etc—games like Katana Zero are the dream: interesting and provocative, smartly put-together, memorable and challenging, and conquerable in a few evenings. Get acquainted with it now, before it starts appearing on best-of-2019 lists later in the year.

Source: Kotaku.com