Katana Zero is one of the most exceptionally stylish, infinitely enjoyable, and immersive experiences I have ever played. The game came out in 2020 and has received content patches ever since, with the creator still working on other content.

The game is set in an unclear fictional future; you play as a veteran of a war, a Vietnam-like thing, who has come back from war. You then become a hitman for your therapist, who seems to be working for a sinister organisation. The story is the strongest part of the game, with lengthy cutscenes and dialogue choices. The main emotional crux of the story is your parent-like relationship with a little girl. The game makes you feel for her, and the main character, Zero, who spends most of his time chopping people up, can take on a sympathetic light. (that’s not even mentioning the Russian gangster and other organisations or the dreams about child murder that you have. Or the two people who speak in slang/Shakespearean accents who talk about death a lot in your dreams.)

Katana Zero has stylish 2D pixel art, is ultra-violent, and is a quick-paced game. It is incredibly hard; you die a lot and restart the game as much as a Devolver Digital game should. Even if someone else tried to publish it, I think Devolver Digital would still burst through the window and grab it. This is Devolver’s bread and butter. Look at their other games, Carrion and Hotline Miami (which are also awesome, and I thoroughly recommend).


The extreme difficulty of the game is also worth touching on. The game seems to hate you, and you have been stuck on this level for half an hour now, but something makes you continue, pushing through on the 31st try, swearing those stupid shielded enemies have ridiculous reaction times and the slow-motion power isn’t working. But then you enter the zone, and you suddenly destroy everything effortlessly.

The game is also carried by its great soundtrack of 80’s synth wave pop, whose smooth rhythms keep you going as the baseline thumps in time with your movements, and the whole game seems to melt away into a blur of music and violence transforming into a beautiful ballet of swords and clubs.

The other selling point of Katana Zero is its slow-motion ability, in which the player can enter a room, throw a knife at a thug, slice a turret in half, and ricochet the gunman’s bullet back at him before the first second of real-time has even passed. At the end of every room, the game gives you a short preview of what you just did in real-time because, in slow motion, it kind of feels lame, and you say, “Oh, wait… I’m a badass”.

Once you beat the game the first time, you unlock the fantastic speed run mode, where all of your skills come into play. This mode is incredibly hard, and I am, terrible at it, but it is yet another way that the game adds playability after the end.

Katana Zero is an effortlessly stylish trip that is frustrating not to the point of irritation but to the point of making you feel like a god when you finally beat a challenge. I strongly recommend you play it.

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