The latest bullet hell shooter from Cave to make it to our shores courtesy of the good folk at Rising Star Games, Akai Katana isn’t likely to win many new fans to this most hardcore of genres and certainly doesn’t do anything particularly new with the well worn template.
But what it does do is provide yet another exemplary slice of hardcore horizontal shooting from the masters of the genre while delivering a single unique concept that does just enough to make Akai Katana stand out from the surprisingly large selection of high quality bullet hell shooters currently doing the rounds on the 360.
With its retro graphics, while although admittedly gorgeous, clearly not intended to push the 360 hardware and its classic, sensory overload visual style likely to melt the mind of the casual gamer, Akai Katana has clearly been made with its already established fan base in mind, and in that respect, is unlikely to prove disappointing to those who know what they are getting into. With the token, utterly inconsequential story doing just enough to bring together samurai, fighter planes and a bit of old fashioned magic, Akai Katana will prove just the ticket for fans of classic Japanese videogame design.
While the recently released, Sine Mora (available on XBLA) proved that there is room for innovation within the genre, Akai Katana for the most part is happy to live within the confines of the classic genre staples. Like the majority of bullet hell shooters, Akai Katana is actually more of a dodger than a shooter. While things do become somewhat more tactical during high level play and serious score-chasing runs, for the majority of gamers, the main aim will be to dodge the intricate bullet patters while keeping their finger firmly held down on the attack button. With upgrades to pick up, a limited number of screen clearing bombs to use and an inordinate amount of enemies and projectiles to deal with, Akai Katana is a largely by the numbers, classic Cave shooter.
What sets it apart from its peers to a certain degree however, is the introduction of ‘Phantoms’. These character specific Phantoms can be summoned when enough energy has been collected and can be controlled while on screen. By delivering a unique ability to the player depending upon the game mode being played, the Phantoms add a much appreciated addition to the underlying tactical options that, when used correctly, will prove the difference between simply surviving and, as is the ultimate aim with any shooter worth its salt, surviving with style.
In Origin Mode, you get the classic coin-op experience, exactly the same as it was when it was released in arcades back in 2010. In this mode, your Phantom can deflect shots, thus reducing the need to use up your all important bombs while allowing you to keep up your score multiplier in situations that would otherwise spell certain doom. By encouraging you to balance the need for basic survival with the need to collect energy to power up your Phantom for those trickier moments, Origin Mode does a great job of providing an unforgiving and seemingly never ending risk/reward scenario that encourages a canny combination offensive and defensive approaches to gameplay.
Slash Mode, which is exclusive to the 360 version of the game, isn’t quite as nuanced as Origin Mode, but it does have the added bonus of being delivered via a more modern 16:9 display ratio, thus making it the more attractive version of the game. In this mode, your Phantom can pick up swords dropped by enemies that can be launched back towards them to greatly increase your offensive arsenal. While the need to memorise attack patterns and dodge the waves of bullets headed your way is still paramount, Slash Mode is the more offensively minded game type and will probably prove more alluring to newcomers to the genre.
The third and final mode, Climax, is essentially just Origin Mode, but, believe it or not, even more hardcore. With faster, more elaborate bullet patterns to deal with, this is one for the most hardcore of gamers only. While it doesn’t deliver anything particularly new to the package, for those looking for the ultimate in gaming challenges, Climax Mode will deliver in a way that few games can.
With only a handful of levels and 3 game modes that, at least on the surface, are all very similar, content-wise, Akai Katana isn’t exactly bursting at the seams, but for a certain type of gamer, the inclusion of online leaderboards will provide all the additional content they require. This isn’t a game to experience – this is a game to master. Sure, you can plod your way through Akai Katana in a few hours off the back of the unlimited continues on offer, but if you want to make any kind of dent on the leaderboards, you’re going to have to put in some serious gaming time.
Akai Katana is a game so clearly aimed at its niche as to make it all but unpalatable to the majority of Western gamers……but that’s alright. Those who enjoy this sort of game will most likely love Akai Katana and that is all that Cave has strived to achieve with this release. Yes, it has one relatively unique feature, but that’s not going to mean diddly-squat to your average Call of Duty obsessed gamer.
This is an unashamedly hardcore game made for unashamedly hardcore gamers; rich in quality but ultimately poor in innovation. If you can live with that, well, you probably imported this last year. But if you didn’t, Akai Katana comes highly recommended.
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