Akai Katana is a colourful shoot ‘em up created by ‘Shmup’ veterans Cave software. Akai Katana makes unsympathetic baby steps to introduce its players to the rules of combat, like a particularly inept physics teacher frustratingly trying to convey a complex theory to a dumbfounded student by flicking through a thick, graffiti laden text book.
The game opens with a short tutorial explaining the nuances of combat controls, but largely leaves you to fend for yourself. Instead Akai Katana opts for a ‘learn as you play’ philosophy. The problem with this is that, with such a cluttered interface, it’s difficult for newcomers to glean any meaning from the psychedelic display. The mechanics of the game centre around dodging neon bullets and switching between defensive and attacking states. In defence mode movement speed is improved and damage can still be dealt, but in smaller doses. Meanwhile attacking mode allows players to spew a steam of high-powered bullets upon their enemies at the cost of speed. Destroying the well-illustrated Metal Slug style enemy vehicles earns you a charge. Strangely, players with enough charge can transform into a score chomping flying human phantom capable of slowing and repelling enemy attacks.
Akai katana has three game types on offer, set inside a well-crafted menu. The three versions are an Xbox 360 optimized version called ‘Slash’ and a classic arcade version called ‘Origin’, with a classic 4:3 aspect ratio. Players who like a challenge akin to dodging rain in a storm can test their mettle with the interestingly named ‘climax’ game type. This mode ratchets up the difficulty to a cruel ‘bullet hell’ proportion, but ‘climax’ is strictly for pros with a penchant for punishment. Within these three game-types are differing modes, which allow for huge customization options for players to tinker with. Linking combos and endless score chasing is what Akai Katana is all about, but all high scores are relative. Without a list of friends in the scoreboards things could feel a little aimless, as the game doesn’t offer any grading system to stroke or scold your ego. The leaderboard features a full replay mode, meaning players who question a high score can check out the technique and legitimacy of the insanely high high-scores. Because the game is so open it will have even novice players naively thinking “I can beat that”, which helps strip away the reluctance and fear of improving your skills to a higher standard.
The art style is an amalgamation of three styles, one being well illustrated metal slug theme to illustrate enemy vehicles and backdrops, which is easily the best asset the game has to offer visually speaking. The other assets are not quite as strong, as the generic anime characters while pretty, lack creative flair much like the guitar solos that provide the soundtrack. The most upsetting thing is that the game’s best visual assets are hidden behind a torrent of pink and blue bullet waves. While trying to observe the artwork you are punished for taking your eye off the ball, even for the most fleeting moment. Artistically the game is confused, coupled with the disconnect between perspectives of foreground and background Akai Katana is an acquired taste.
Akai Katana only features seven very short, unvaried levels. Admittedly the game would have been more suited to a high priced Xbox Live download but to think of this game as something to complete is to miss the point. Akai Katana is a game to master. Fans of bullet hell will undoubtedly get a kick out of Akai Katana as the mechanics are well thought out and will have players practicing and perfecting tactics. If players fall in love with anything about this game it will be the mechanics.
A huge learning curve with a high price tag but it yields great rewards for those willing to invest the time.
MLG Rating: 7/10 Platform: Xbox 360 Release Date: 11/05/2012
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Akai Katana by the promoter for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on an Xbox 360. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.