The thing that Katana Zero really shares with Hotline Miami, over and above the publisher, the super-violence, the story of drug-addled killers, the glitchy way reality seems to be a corrupted save file, and the enduring love of lurid, hangover pinks? The thing it really shares is the awareness that a certain kind of punishing and precise action game is always itching to turn into the robbery scene from Groundhog Day. There’s Bill Murray stood on the street corner. A bullion van is unloading money. He walks across the road and starts counting. One, two, three. Dog barks. Five. Car passes. Seven. Guard spills quarters. Eight, nine, ten. He grabs the money and disappears. It seems effortless, but it’s hard work. Years of practice. He’s done it over and over to make it look that easy.
Katana Zero gives you a bit more to play with, of course. One, two, three. Open the door and slice two guys to pieces. Five. Jump in minecart. Seven. Hit signal to change tracks. Nine. Out of the mine cart and use it as a shield against the laser grid. Ten, eleven, twelve. Molotov cocktail and knock back incoming bullets.
Yet despite the variations – the mine carts, boss fights, bikes-versus-helicopters, armoured baddies and explosive chuckables – for the most part Katana Zero’s laboratory of nastiness is built around a few simple tools. You have a sword attack with a decent reach. You can pick things up and throw them. You can jump. You can slow time. You can dodge-roll. And beyond all that, there’s the conceit that the game’s action is played out in your mind as you try and retry each encounter, looping back through time with each failure and finding the best way to tackle the groups of foes you encounter in this finely-calibrated 2D world. When you finally make it to the end of one of the game’s shortish scenarios intact? Then you commit, and you get to watch a polished playthrough of what you’ve just done – your solution to a bloody temporal puzzle – played out on CCTV. Onwards!
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