Set in a neon-infused cyberpunk world, Katana Zero is easily one of the most stylish indie games we had a chance to try out at PAX East this year. It may look like another side-scrolling action game from afar, but after a few minutes into it, you’ll realize this is one experience you will soon not forget.
Armed with only a katana in hand, you play as an assassin who is troubled by nightmares of his past. He relives his dreams during therapy sessions where he also receives time-altering meds and a dossier of his next assassination target. Suspicious? You bet.
Before even getting into combat, we learned that we had the option of interrupting conversations and cutting to the chase, as it may. By doing so, you may miss some vital points of information or you can alter how a conversation or an interaction plays out. One of the missions we played, for example, gave us the option of letting the target kill himself instead of attacking him first. There’s definitely a deep narrative here worth discovering, and these options let you play the game to your style.
Combat missions take place throughout side-scrolling cityscapes and buildings where one hit will kill you. The objective of each level is to clear out every room and make it to your target at the end. Think Hotline Miami but with a sword instead. And yes, there’s a lot of blood and gritty violence here too.
While enemies will be shooting you down, all you have to defend yourself is your trusty blade and your ability to slow down time—thanks to those meds you’re taking, we bet. You can dash and deflect bullets right back at your enemies or slow down time to get past lasers and other traps. If you get shot even once, the screen will rewind like an old VHS tape and force you to start the level over again.
We definitely died a few times playing through each level, but that’s the beauty of these rewinds as they force you to think and rethink your strategy to complete each mission. There’s a level of satisfaction that comes with completing each level after several attempts only by learning from your mistakes and trying something new instead.
Our demo of Katana Zero was short and sweet and left us with many questions we can’t wait to answer. Thankfully, we don’t have to wait too long as the game comes out on Nintendo Switch, Steam, and Mac April 18.