Posted on 22 May 2019 by Sawyer Scherbenske

Katana ZERO

The Defence

Developer: Askiisoft
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Genre: Action, Indie
Platform: PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 18 Apr 2019

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Pentium E2180 @2 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 7600GT
AMD equivalent
HDD: 200 MB
DirectX: 10
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3240 @3.4 GHz
AMD equivalent
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 8800GTS
AMD equivalent
HDD: 200 MB
DirectX: 10
Controller: Full
Mod Support: No
VR: No
FOV Slider: No
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

Devolver Digital has increasingly been becoming the go-to publisher when it comes to small indie titles, but Askiisoft had a lot to prove with their very first externally published Steam game. Katana Zero, a neo-noir game following the life and assassinations of a mysterious drug-infused samurai might be what makes or breaks Askiisoft depending on how it reviews and sells. Thankfully, the stylish visuals and smooth gameplay are promising indicators towards a great game. Here’s to hoping this is another gem under Devolver’s belt, a huge success for Askiisoft, and a good time for all its players.

The Trial

First, a dead, bleeding body falling from somewhere above onto a cement rooftop into the view of a beautifully animated pixelated goon with a gun. Then a robed samurai jumps down from above, rolling as he hits the roof. The guard panics, shoots a bullet, but time grinds to stop freezing the bullet in space. Everything around the scene is dark, except for the brilliantly turquoise silhouette of the samurai. With a swing of his sword, he deflects the bullet back at its sender before sheathing his sword. That’s the introductory scene of Katana Zero and it teaches you everything you’ll need to know for the rest of the game.

Katana Zero is a simple game at its basics. You can move, roll, slow down time, jump, throw, and swing your sword. From the beginning of the game its intuitive, but the skill ceiling hits the stratosphere. There are small gameplay deviations like a short minecart sequence, but what you have at the beginning is what you’ll have at the end. Figuring out how to use your skillset to tackle each level is part of the fun, but actually executing what you’ve planned is where the real challenging fun comes in. You can play it stealthy, charge them head on, deflect bullets from afar, slow time, or launch roman-esque busts at their skulls.

Throughout Katana Zero’s admittedly short 4 hours of gameplay the combination of stage hazards, enemy placement, and enemy variation keep each room feeling like its own challenge. It never gets bogged down by a feeling of repetitiveness, even if the tools you have at your disposal remain the same throughout the game. What works in one room may not work in another, and every boss fight makes you reconsider your tactics entirely. There’s no “leveling up” or alternate weapons, but at the end of every level is the feeling that you’re improving and can take on whatever comes next after the fifty times you died in the previous level.

One of many hilarious pop-culture parodies.

Just because you planned it all out doesn’t mean that it’ll happen though. Katana Zero is hard. Really hard. And you’ll be dying a lot before you even reach the end of the first level. For the most part it manages to stay “challenging” without ever going into that head-bashing-against-a-wall “frustrating” difficulty, although there is a large difficulty spike about ¾ through the game. It’s justified by story events, but making no progress while you sit there convinced that you must have completely missed a key game mechanic isn’t fun regardless of where it’s placed in the story.

Speaking of the bosses, this game has some of the most engaging NPC characters that I’ve seen in an indie title since The Banner Saga. The writing team did an amazing job of subverting player expectations when it comes to “the bad guys,” and every NPC is lovable in their own way while some even left me wanting other whole games about the character. Standouts are the world’s most adorable little girl, the fanboy russian mobster, and a weeby desk secretary who plays Yu-Gi-Oh! with you. These extremely lovable NPCs and the settings that they interact with you in give the world that grungy “neo-noir” feeling all while giving the game the perfect amount of story padding between missions.

The story centers around the main character’s past and a mysterious super-drug called “Chronos.” The meat of the story is built around the memorable bosses and charismatic supporting cast you’ll meet while you assassinate your targets, learn more about the mysterious drug, and discover who you really are by the end of the game. By the end of the game there are more questions than answers, which leaves me cautiously hopeful for a sequel that explains the ending and gives the supporting cast more time to shine.

Violent murder has rarely looked so stylish.

Interacting with these lovable characters is a mixed bag though. Katana Zero is very linear and gives you no way to interact with any of its lovable characters outside of the main story, but at least when it does let you interact you can choose from one of three dialogue options. It’s better than not giving you any options at all, but it would have been nice to see more examples of conversations altering the gameplay. When it does happen like when the weeby secretary girl remembers what you said about cosplay or what anime you like it adds a lot of depth to this pretty 2D world.

Did I mention this game is pretty? The fluid animation between each sword swing or spray of blood is impressive, especially on the backdrop of loud and violent synthwave blaring in the background. To summarize it all in one word, it feels and sounds “fluid.” Every action flows into the next, forming a cohesive experience that feels every bit as stylish as it looks. I won’t be adding the OST to my mixtape any time soon,but the main character starting his cassette player at the beginning of every level as the level’s name and name of the song pop up across the screen is an awesome touch I want to see more of.

The Verdict

Before Katana Zero was announced, I had never heard of Askiisoft. After playing it, they’ve skyrocketed to one of my favorite indie-developers. Katana Zero is a bite-size four hour title that plays as good as it looks, and it looks really damn stylish. Although it’s short and leaves the player with more questions than answers, it left me with a smile on my face and eagerness to play more soon. Its story, characters, visuals, and music all do a fantastic job supporting this difficult, gameplay focused title and I’m excited to see more of it in the future.

Case Review

  • Sylish: Katana Zero has style and fluidity on par with that of a Devil May Cry game.

  • Characters: Whether it’s the little girl playing dinosaurs or the mobster trying to snort cocaine off of your samurai sword, I love these characters.

  • Writing: Any line of dialogue could make you laugh or cry.

  • Graphics: The 2D animation is beautiful and fluid, but you have to like 2D to appreciate it.

  • Questions: You’re left with questions, and the ending is a cliffhanger.

4.5 Score: 4.5/5
Katana Zero provides cutting edge 2D Action with story, writing, and style in generous proportions.


  • Audio: Default sound balance is a little loud, but you have all the options you need to adjust it however you like it.
  • Controls: You can rebind any button whether you’re on gamepad or keyboard. Both styles of play work well, though I’d recommend gamepad.
  • Graphic Settings: You can customize the graphics as much as you want. You can adjust things like screen shake anywhere from 0% to 1000%, or what the game titles “literally unplayble.” It’s all up to you!


4.5 Score: 4.5/5

Katana Zero may only be a few hours long, clocking in at about 5 hours for me, but every minute of that is either stylish, slicker-than-snot action, amusing dialogue, or the deepening mystery of your drug infused samurai’s life. Don’t expect Deus Ex levels of criss-crossing conspiracy but plenty of unanswered questions keep you engaged right up to the credits rolling. The in-mission dialogue is also brilliant; what starts as a parody of cosplayers and fangirls ends up being helpful to you in the end – even if you do what I did and choose the answers that are just the funniest.

Gameplay itself largely consists of you running through levels and murdering your way to your target, then often murdering your way back out. Regular enemies fall into a couple of basic types but thanks to the frantic pace they still offer challenge. The game’s mechanics really reward you for taking full advantage of what you have available, mainly a brief period of slow motion that you can activate or deactivate at will. With it on an incredibly dangerous room turns into a finely choreographed flurry of fatal strikes. Thanks to responsive controls it’s easy to get into the zone while playing, and against a single gunman you may find yourself dodging his shots without the need for slow motion.

Askiisoft pretty much came out of nowhere and shot to the head of the class thanks to Katana Zero – it’s a masterful example of how to do a lot with a little with more polish than an antique furniture store and so much style it’d be banned from a fashion show for making everyone else look bad. This is a game absolutely worthy of your time and money.

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