Akai Katana - His & Hers Review
His Review with Ian Abbott
Welcome to a piece of side scrolling, bullet raining, frenzy inducing, ninja moding, aircraft flying Akai Katana. Developed by CAVE (Computer Art Visual Entertainment) who are famed for creating shmups (shoot em ups) and based in Japan, AK has just been unleashed on the Xbox 360.
With three different modes: Origin (a perfect arcade replica – the game originally debuted as a coin-op in 2010), Climax (tougher bullet streams which hug you quicker) and Slash (in which you act as a ancient Japanese smithy and generate steel orbs which in turn create those mighty Katana blades) with three different aircrafts to pilot (each with slightly differing abilities in manoeuvrability or power damage), there’s plenty of options to keep those lovers of leader boards smiling. The modes can be mashed in 45 minutes and at the end of the levels within each mode, you’re greeted by a gracious boss who just wants to share dozens of his magnetic slugs with you. So you have to dance and avoid them bullets like your life depends upon it.
I found the experience addictive, because of my inbuilt need for betterment and internal competition but not satisfying in the slightest. With infinite continues this allows for easy gameplay and little consequence if you do take a laser to the knee. The real difficulty and appeal for fans of this genre of game will be the acquisition of the hulking great scores and experience medals which are generated through multiple combinations and transfers between your pilot and ninja to maximise those scores into the realms not of 10’s of millions but 100’s of millions. As you turn to ninja-phantom, the innovative use of a bullet reflecting shield emboldens the aggressive player as your green energy meter ticks down before turning back to an aircraft.
Colours are vivid and plentiful but the soundtrack is forgettable and adds little to the game. There’s the inevitable bit of laggy slow when there’s just too much on the screen for the game to handle and this breaks the manic magic that the game is trying to foster. The 2 player (local co-op only) adds less to proceedings, is only available in one of the three modes and makes the game even easier. There is a piffling narrative pritt sticked onto the game, which loosely follows this theme: Japan was feeling industriously rich, it got a new mineral that had magical powers that could be forged into a blade. The blade gifted certain individuals with immense power and turned them into a killing machine and this power was eventually misused. The game isn’t about narrative arcs or character progression, so I’m unsure why CAVE bothered with an attempted narrative at all. This proposition bears little resemblance to the game in which you have to shoot everything in sight, duck and weave and avoid death at all costs.
AK is a must for those lovers of leaderboards who cannot sleep until they parade the highest score and a fan of the shmup genre, but offers no way in for new comers to this field and would have fitted better as a Xbox Live Arcade game rather than a full on boxed beast.
Her Review with Tracey McGarrigan
When games moved out of the arcades and into front rooms, information about characters, weapons, background story and the controller was obtained courtesy of the lesser-spotted instruction booklet. As games have further evolved to allow for character development, twisting plots and button training to be interwoven over 60 hours of gameplay, that small paragraph or two that gave insight into what on earth was happening on screen has become largely irrelevant. Shoot-em-up master developers Cave understand this very well. Akai Katana is a full on, unapologetic arcade experience for the home where the only thing to be concerned about getting the highest score possible and not blistering your thumbs.
There is a story in here somewhere with manga stills of boys with cool hair and girls usually weeping, dashing across the screen. In a parallel Japanese Sci-Fi universe, there’s an evil Emperor that uses blood swords smelted from a new form of magical mineral that bestow destructible powers upon the wielder. Said swords need human sacrifices to grant power and have been used to crush neighbouring countries but a small band of rebels led by Kukyou, avenging his mother's death at the hand of his father (said evil Emperor) have decided enough blood has been shed and are set to take on the might of the Empirical Armies and all their thousands and thousands of bullets. It’s you in a teeny tiny plane against some monster big mechanical gunships and weird, floating end of level bosses. I don’t remember seeing many swords actually.
The first Cave feature on the Xbox360 with HD, 16:9 support, as I scrolled horizontally into the first spray of icy blue and zingy pink bullets, my instant reaction was just to keep the trigger locked as everything exploded in flame and colour with a frenzied electronic soundtrack assaulting the ears. There’s no tutorial and it totally skips any “Once Upon a Time” introduction in favour of plonking the player straight into the action. It’s eye-boggling overwhelming when every inch of the big screen is filled with life sapping projectiles but this makes each narrow escape, each frantic dodge or expertly timed bomb even more celebratory. Shooting everything on the screen is impossible and having the nerve to stop firing, to keep building up energy or steel as bullets rain down, waiting until the last audaciously hysterical moment to scoop up all the bounty in search of that all-important elevated score is where genuine tension and enjoyment comes.
Like the Big One at Blackpool, it takes riders to incredible highs but it’s over all too soon. Quick reactions and quicker tactical planning is vital for players pursuing the top spots on the leaderboards within the short levels. Saving up bombs for the more explosive encounters or timing when to swap from showering the enemy with white hot ammo whilst piloting a plane to unleashing a phantom character with a protective, time-sensitive shield gives a sense of control over the unrelenting madness as Japanese war cries ring out.
Often though I found I had to be in the mood, pumped up and wanting to take on the challenge in order to find gratification when zipping through. Akai Katana demands attention and is hard to pick up and play casually. It certainly doesn’t claim to be a casual game, designed instead to offer crazily intense, short and sweet bursts of bullet action though this might lead to some unable to justify the pricetag. There’s the option of free-play which meant I could just keep continuing, immediately respawning with no break in the action which was simultaneously satisfying when the final boss keeled over and the credits rolled and strangely shallow because technically the game should have been over as soon as I got tangled up in bullet hell during level two. Climbing leaderboards doesn’t hold any addictive, romance for me so this isn’t a title I will be constantly revisiting but when the mood for ripping millions of bullets into something does hit, there is no finer example or thrill than offered here. Being constantly alert to the continual, heart quickening soundtrack under the visual noise as wave after wave of mechanical guns and neon missiles overloads the senses very quickly. As agonising as it is to repetitively die, the slim impression of getting slightly slicker on each run is fun in retrospect. The local co-op two player option has both planes on the same screen which makes it slightly easier and is good fun competing for the big scores. Inevitably it means even more colourful carnage invades the screen and often it is sensationally spectacular.
Whilst Akai Katana is certainly not a game to play just before going to bed, as an alternative to longer-winded, complex gaming experiences, this hardcore arcade hit is sweaty palm inducing and maddening yet brilliant.
Published by Rising Star Games, Akai Katana is out now for Xbox360.