Developer Cave has been responsible for some of the most critically acclaimed shooters on Xbox 360. Just short of two years ago, their hell shooter Deathsmiles mesmerized gamers with its unforgiving boss battles and countless gameplay options. Guwange was released shortly thereafter as a digital download, proving again that Cave is a force to be reckoned with in the arcade 2D shooter genre.
Like all Cave shooters, Akai Katana is a fast-paced 2D hell shooter that overwhelms the player with a hailstorm of multicolored bullets and countless enemies attacking from all directions. While the object is to gain a high score, the real beauty of playing is to master the intricate bullet patterns and memorizing boss attack patterns.
The game places the player in the role of one of three rebels who pilot a squadron of fighters known as Shakevolts. As you take on the evil empire, you must engage a relentless army consisting of tanks, gun turrets, helicopters, and various other war machines. And while the premise is different, the play mechanics closely resemble Deathsmiles.
As you destroy your on-screen adversaries, green energy replenishers will appear. When enough of these replenishers are collected, you can summon what is called a Phantom form. While in this form, you are given temporary invincibility against enemy bullets. However, once the temporary invincibility wears off, your phantom will revert back to its original form when hit.
Gameplay relies on both of your Shakevolt’s forms. The Fighter craft (or Shakevolt) is weaker, but its shooting capabilities cover a larger radius. It also gives you control over your bullets by rolling the analog stick.
The Phantom form is far more powerful, and as mentioned earlier, it offers temporary invincibility against enemy bullets. When you’re not attacking, a ‘guiding wall’ that resembles a shield will appear to repeal attacks. This is useful against bullets that are fired in a horizontal pattern, but it doesn’t block bullets that approach from above or below your fighter.
The ‘Guiding Cannon’ is a devastating attack that when fired will encase enemies in a field and extinguish their bullets. However, using this attack will slow down your fighter, making it difficult to avoid enemy fire. It’s a trade off that can have severe consequences if you’re not careful.
There are plenty of power ups available to enhance your fighter’s capabilities, but certain conditions must be met before they can be acquired. For example; Steel Orbs will not appear until you destroy an enemy at point blank range in Defense mode (i.e. while leaving your ship stationary). These orbs can also be collected in Fighter mode, but the player must maneuver the enemy closer to his weapons. Once enough Steel Orbs are collected, they can be used as projectiles.
Katana blades are power ups that can only be collected by destroying enemies in Phantom mode. Collecting enough of these blades will create a shield of swords around your craft. They can also be used as projectiles.
Boss battles are knuckle-whitening experiences that will test your patience as a gamer. Bosses like Hiiragi will summon enormous battleships and other mechanical constructs to battle by their side as they clutter the screen with bullets. Since your fighter’s hit detection box is visible and quite small (it’s a small, glowing ball at the center of the craft), you can navigate most of the bullet patterns without incident. The biggest challenge is avoiding their mechanical companions.
Slowdown will occasionally interrupt the flow of gameplay. It seems to happen at the most inopportune of moments, placing your craft in predicaments that are unavoidable. Sometimes the game will come to an immediate crawl, making it easier to avoid enemy fire. It’s frustrating in some ways and ironic in others.
Akai Katana offers three different game modes — Slash, Origin, and Climax. Slash mode offers improved visuals that are displayed in 16:9 widescreen and the gameplay is slightly improved over the coin-op (mostly involving the way power ups are used). Origin mode is the original coin-op; it even replicates the game’s original fullscreen aspect ratio. Climax, the final and third mode, offers increased difficulty. Plus, a novice mode is available for newcomers.
The 2D graphics are absolutely breathtaking for a shooter. Everything from cities to snow-covered landscapes are intricately detailed. Intersecting roads are covered in gravel; buildings have wooden plank roofs and side paneling; and other environmental objects like cranes look worn and rusty. Even the sprites contain an incredible amount of detail. Without question, Akai Katana is a beautiful shooter.
Cave shooters offer a unique blend of action and 2D art that can’t be found in other games. With three different modes of play, fifty achievements to unlock, a training mode, online leaderboards, and video replays, there’s no reason not to add Akai Katana to your collection. And while slowdown is present, it does little to affect this masterpiece of a shooter.
Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Rising Star Games
ESRB: T (Teen)
|Gorgeous 2D backgrounds and sprites.|
|Great music, loud explosions, and Japanese voice acting -- all derivative of a Cave shooter.|
|With three different game modes, a training mode, online leaderboards, and fifty achievements to unlock, Akai Katana (like all Cave shooters) offers countless hours of replay value for the money.|
|What's not to like? If you don't already own Akai Katana then you should.|