Katana Zero review
Katana Zero is an indie action game where you play as a samurai assassin in a modern-level setting. They call it a platformer, but I wouldn't, since bottomless pits, environmental hazards, and elevation play only minor roles.
It's a bit short (my first playthrough was ~8 hours), but excellent. It also has good music and a charming pixelated art style.
Content warning for the game: it depicts torture.
Really good. Katana Zero has very short sections with no status and quick retries. You die in one hit from anything, which is appropriate for how short the sections are.
Concepts of sections and status in game design
The levels are linear, and there are no character upgrades or stats. You play the end of the game with the same abilities you played the beginning with.
The combat is extremely fast-paced: both the player and enemies move so fast that you have trouble keeping track of them. The main unique mechanic is the ability to slow time to make it feasible to execute complex maneuvers and dodge or deflect bullets. I like that in theory the ability is completely unnecessary since all it affects is the game speed. I have, when I know what's coming, managed to execute most of the maneuvers you're supposed to slow time for without it.
Most encounters are subject to a decent amount of strategy, not just your timing skill. You can often choose from multiple points to enter a room at, which enemies to prioritize, whether to try to deflect or roll through a bullet (deflecting can get you a free kill but requires you to stand in place where you could be killed by other enemies, whereas rolling gives you brief invincibility from everything while moving you to closer to melee range). You can sometimes choose from different one-use support items to take into a fight, such as a throwable knife or a smoke grenade that creates a safe spot, and decide where to throw those items; sometimes it's a good strategy to enter a room, pick off some enemies, then retreat before you get shot and try to ambush the remaining enemies around a corner.
Trial and error wouldn't even really matter when sections are this short, but the devs went the extra mile and eliminated it anyway. Nearly all hazards are designed to be avoidable without foreknowledge.
An example I want to highlight: there are stationary, vertical lasers that fire when someone walks through their path, indicated by a dotted red line. The first time you see these, there's a short cutscene where one enemy sees you enter the room, runs over to a switch and turns on the lasers, accidentally killing another enemy who was standing underneath them. This makes it as clear as possible to the player how the lasers work, incase they might've thought that a dotted line means they aren't turned on yet or something. It might not have been necessary, but the game communicates it clearly anyway. Gotta appreciate that.
Pretty lame. I thought it was cool as I was playing the first time, but it ends with several aspects of it still unexplained. And it's 'unexplained' in such a way that I'm not convinced there *is* a coherent picture of everything in the writer's mind that's consistent with everything the game shows. A section in the middle of the game kinda lost me by just showing way too much random unexplained bullshit: glitchy meaningless visions and disjointed scene transitions. A lot of the characters seem unnecessary: there's like 4 who seem to just do the same things as either the player character or the main antagonist, splitting limelight with them so none of them get enough to be interesting. There isn't room in such a short game to develop this many characters. And the main antagonist is not likable. Instead of cool and threatening, he's just crude and sadistic and gets to humiliate the player character. And you don't even get to kill him - one of those unnecessary characters I mentioned, who is completely unknown up to this point, swoops in out of nowhere and steals the kill.
Two of the characters are also a pair of omnipotent trickster gods who swoop in out of nowhere to make you groan and fuck up the game's sense of a cohesive world. The plot would be the same without them.
The other thing that made me decide it was lame was finding out that none of the choices really matter. The player usually has 2 or 3 dialog choices at each point in every conversation. Sometimes it's obvious: the choices are the same thing with slightly different wording. But my second playthrough showed me that even when the choices appear meaningfully different, like they're going to affect whether or how soon your character figures out a mystery, or make or break alliances, they lead to the same results.