Akai Katana review

By Damien McFerran - 19 May, 2012

Did we mention that the game also has teen heroes?

Did we mention that the game also has teen heroes?

It seems almost compulsory for reviews of Cave titles to begin with some oblique reference to the ‘bullet hell’ shooters and how the company has done so much to popularise this niche genre; given that Cave’s fame is such that even casual iOS players are aware of its output, we’ll forgo lengthy exposition and get right down to the nitty-gritty: Akai Katana is yet another must-have blaster for your 360.

A side-scrolling effort featuring melancholy gun-packing samurai, massive WW2-style battleships and enough projectiles to turn even the most trigger-happy warlord into a card-carrying pacifist, Akai Katana is typical Cave insanity. The visuals call to mind the brilliance of Progear (one of Cave’s first games) and the ability to switch between plane and spirit form adds a level of depth to the gameplay which is lacking in many other shooters.

Of course, with this being a Cave release, the scoring system is so convoluted and confusing that it will be several days before you actually have any understanding of what is going on; despite this stern barrier to entry, the allure of online leaderboards in all three of Akai Katana’s game modes will keep you glued to your controller for weeks to come.

Visually, Akai Katana is a 2D masterpiece. Some of the enemies you fight against are terrifying in both their ferocity and their aesthetic detail; massive military vehicles magically appear out of thin-air and rotate and spin smoothly, while groups of land-based assailants pour over intricately-drawn cityscapes in hope of filling your flimsy craft with hot lead. The music is also fantastic, with hard rock anthems accompanying the on-screen carnage. As much as we enjoyed the insane J-Pop of DoDonPachi Resurrection, we personally prefer screeching guitars to cheesy techno.

Another neat touch is the ability to record your performances and upload them for others to appreciate (or mock, depending on your skills). Of course, this works both ways; if you’re confounded by your lack of talent, you can consult footage of the very best global players in order to glean some tips.

As previously mentioned, Akai Katana has three game modes. On the surface they all appear identical, and boast the same levels and enemies. The difference is that two of the modes are optimised to take advantage of the 360’s widescreen display format (the remaining mode uses the same aspect ratio as the original coin-op), and each has a slightly different scoring mechanic. While this might not seem like a big deal, hardcore players will revel in the opportunity to experience the action from a trio of subtly different gameplay perspectives.

Once again, Rising Star Games has picked up the gauntlet and has released Akai Katana in the west - and at a slightly reduced price point, too. The company is doing a massive service to shooter fans in this part of the world, and although the genre has regressed a long way since the glory days of the Mega Drive and PC Engine, there are still enough fans out there to justify such a release. Just make sure you let Rising Star know this by laying down your cash and picking up a copy pronto.

Roodwurm - 14 Jun 2012, 11:37 GMT

I bought it. Kind review but I'd just like to point out that Progear (2001) was far from Cave's first game. DonPachi (1995) qualifies as such, with 8 titles released between them.

Also, they're an offshoot of Toaplan, developer of Mean Machines-revered Mega Drive shooter Hellfire.

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