Katana Zero Blends Brutal 2D Action With a Fascinating World

BOSTON - I have a soft spot for highly skilled assassins who live in a crappy apartment with obnoxious, noisy neighbors. Katana Zero adds a layer of worldbuilding that's dripping with style. From the VHS tracks on the screen to strong synths playing in the background, Katana Zero has a look that’ll you’ll be dying to play on your Switch.

Katana Zero is an insanely challenging side-scrolling that follows the mold of a Hotline Miami-type game set in a rad retro-cyberpunk world. There are no health bars and you can die in one hit. Each area works like a murder puzzle. So prepare to die over and over again in glorious fashion. Certain enemies require a different approach. Bullets can be deflected back with a well-timed slash.

In my demo, I took advantage of a very generous dodge roll which got me out of a couple of tight spots. Eagle-eyed players will notice that you can use the environments against your foes, busting vents and using the smoke to hide or simply picking up a bottle using it for a one hit kill.

Each stage focuses on a different theme of combat. Once stage involved sneaking through a nightclub by blending into the small crowds of dancers in which caused guards and security cameras to ignore you -- despite you being the only person dressed as a samurai and carrying a large katana. Another stage focused on laser grids, automated turrets among some of the deathtraps which require more finessed wall-jumping pixel-perfect dodges.  

One element I really liked are the game’s dialogue options. Depending on what you choose, they can lead to some unique scenarios. One example is you arrive at a hotel where the target is staying and the receptionist starts a conversation with you. After convincing her that I was only cosplaying a ninja assassin and not really a ninja assassin she let me pass and even flirted with me a bit. So, when I was ready to escape, I was stopped by police who let me pass after the receptionist vouched for me. Had I been rude to her, she’d have ratted me out and I would have had a fight on my hands.

After each mission, you sit down with your therapist/handler try to decipher something disturbing and unclear. The cool thing is if you picked the right dialogue options, the dreams become more clear before you get injected with this mysterious medicine that gives you the power to slow down time. This is beyond useful, since it recovers over time and is a great way to slow down projectiles to deflect back or even as an escape option. The flexibility in combat is what shined through in the demo.

Katana Zero is hitting all the right notes to make itself a stand out title on the Switch and PC when it arrives on April 18. Now, if there was only a way to deal with those pesky neighbors.

Jorge Jiminez is a reporter, game critic, and writer from New Jersey with more than 10 years of experience. He writes primarily for PCGamer, although his work has appeared on other sites, including Tom's Guide, DualShockers, WCCFTech, and more. He specializes in reviewing games and gaming hardware, and greatly enjoys Pop-Tarts.