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Netflix’s Katana Zero review – “Tough touch cyberpunk samurai action”

  • Great presentation and storytelling
  • Strong balance being platforming, action, and strategy
  • Touchscreen controls take some getting used to

We don’t know for sure what the cyberpunk future will be like, but there will probably be lots of neon, which is a tangible substance. Also, if Katana Zero by Askiisoft is to be any indicator, we will see a resurgence of feudal and medieval fashion and equipment. Through the facilitator of Netflix and their gaming efforts, we get a chance to revisit this stylish 2D platform set in the cyberpunk future that’s also a dystopian world, because of course it is. At least you’ve got a sword and some drugs that make it easier (in theory) to survive in such a harsh futuristic world.

What is Katana Zero?

Drunk guys sitting at a t able with bottles around

Just by looking at the title, you can get an idea of what Katana Zero is all about. Namely, it’s about a guy named Zero and he has a katana. Okay, maybe there’s a bit more to it than that. Zero is a contract killer living in the slums of a cyberpunk city known as New Mecca. Being a retired soldier from an experimental elite unit, he’s taking jobs from a shady organization to make ends meet. It’s also the only way he’s able to get a reliable dosage of the special chemicals needed to carry out his assignments and avoid the onset of some very serious withdrawal symptoms.

Katana Zero to Hero

Two floors filled with random people

This game has been around for a few years now and getting to experience it on mobile is another chance to be reminded of what makes Katana Zero great. The biggest is the visual aesthetics and overall tone. It’s got all the energy and vibrance of a bright light cyberpunk future, but this serves as a distraction from what’s truly going on. All the flash and flair are just a mask for the underworld life that Zero lives in and must be ready to kill at a moment’s notice. Of all the things you get to experience, Zero feels the most out of place and you start to wonder if he’s truly beyond redemption.

Katana Zero comes to life in both the action and cutscene segments where even the smallest movements convey a lot about the character. From the way Zero moves, he seems relaxed but you get a sense that he’s carrying so much. When he’s on a mission, his demeanor and behaviour change as he prepares to kill anyone in his way. Even though he’s a skilled assassin and warrior, you get to see and feel how vulnerable he is as well as how ruthless, no matter the target.

Even though this could be called a platformer, it’s more akin to strategic action. Zero is skilled, but he’s also human. All it takes is for one enemy to land a lucky hit and Zero is down for the count. The thing is, the same applies to you and you’ve got a sword and time dilation on your side. You can’t just rush through, you need to consider all tools and environmental elements at your disposal to be efficient, successful, and professional.

Katana Zero at its lowest

Main characters standing below a huge street ad in Katana Zero

This game was made for sharp movements and quick response times, which is why it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t translate to a touchscreen. With Katana Zero on tablets and phones, you need to work with the corners of the screen to control. What causes issues is the fact that you need to be able to make precise movements to succeed and survive. The controls are simply not set up to support that.

You need to lean hard into the analogue UI before Zero starts running and with the way he slips back into walking, all of his movements start to feel awkward and staggered. This becomes even more apparent and annoying when you have to deal with all the timed obstacle course areas. There are also moments where you get access to different mechanics and you need to be able to do two precise moves in quick succession or get used to being reset constantly. It wouldn’t be so bad, but one key aspect here is that all it takes is just one mistake to reset the entire room.

Katana Zero and counting

Standing in a mushroom-like object with speakers on each side and a guy with a dice on his head

Katana Zero is a 2D mobile platformer about clearing out areas full of enemies using planned strikes and movements. The presentation remains strong and comes through very clearly in this new mobile platform with all the challenges and personalities needed to get you invested. Sadly, the touchscreen controls have a high chance of frustrating you into going outside and breaking an actual katana. If you do end up doing that, the score would be you one, katana zero. So, maybe give the game a few more chances and some patience.


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