‘Katana ZERO’ review: All Outta Bubblegum

“Hotline Miami” and its sequel are some of my undisputedly favorite games of all time. Brimming with style and boasting some of the best soundtracks ever compiled, each game sets you in the 80s and early 90s as a masked killer who must dispatch drug lords, Eastern-European mafia organizations and various other 80s-centric types, while also being in that highly stylized neon soaked hazy 80s aesthetic. Ever since then, I have realized how great indie games can be, and “Katana ZERO” is one of the best indie games, let alone games, I have ever played.

Developed by Askiisoft and published by Devolver Digital, you play as an unnamed hitman wielding a katana, who must slash through various linear levels killing goons, along with a wonderful story.

The bias I have for the game must be addressed: just like Panos Cosmatos’ “Mandy,” it is almost as if Askiisoft asked “what are Nick’s favorite things in the fictional media he consumes?,” and they answered the call with an 80s-at-heart electronic soundtrack, well defined style, and frantic gameplay, fitting in that particular niche wonderfully.

It is not afraid to show its inspirations that it got from Hotline, but with Dennaton Games not going back to make another, “Katana ZERO” is a not quite spiritual successor of those games. It makes itself clear that it is its own beast instead of being too derivative for its own good, sometimes surpassing Miami.

One example of this is in the combat. While at first seeming like some easy hack and slash 2D sidescroller, as you go on, there is a depth and complexity that was always there. The movement system, particularly a roll ability and a time slowdown mechanic that set it apart while at the same time making you feel the near epitome of the statement “all outta bubblegum,” and is one of the most John Wickian games in terms of flow I have played in a long time.

It also is much more forgiving than Hotline, but in a way that doesn’t feel like you are playing on easy mode. The combat is balanced and fine tuned.

And as much as the gameplay is excellent, so is the story. It is incredibly well told and engaging, offering a memory-centric mystery that makes you want to keep pushing and pushing, and has to be one of my favorites in recent memory.

But that there is where the problem is with this game, it is far too short, only being a few hours long. I read countless amounts of posts on Reddit seeing posts of people claiming that they beat it in one sitting, and while I have too many responsibilities to do that, I could see it happening if I had time on my hands. That rather big flaw brought out some other problems I had to ignore my bias to see, you are given extensive dialogue options in the game, but it is an illusion because none of them necessarily matter to how the game ends.

Overall, at $15, I do not regret getting this game one bit. It has all I want in a game: an intriguing story, addicting gameplay and a style that sticks with you. All in all, I cannot recommend this game enough.