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Akai Katana (Xbox 360) artwork

Akai Katana (Xbox 360) review

"So many deaths, so many bulletsÖ"

Akai Katana asset

Iíd like to talk about the impressive presentation of Caveís latest foray into bullet hell madness, but I was presented with a slight dilemma. See, Iíve been doing this review lark for a while now, so I already had this introduction written as I played thorough the game. Iíd talk about the settings, how itís set in an alternative version of Japanís industrial Taisho period where a new source of fuel has been discovered, one that catapults their technological standings through the roof. Via this, demonic swords are forged that, once they take a life, give the wielder crazy amounts of power to abuse. An emperor of a small providence uses this for evil, his army led by people with these cursed swords, and a rebellion of likewise soldiers rises to try and stop them before they engulf all of Japan.

This was the plan. Iíd then talk about how the stages were backdropped to highlight this setting, but I couldnít really pay a lot of attention. Donít get me wrong; what Akai Katana serves up are lush and descriptive backgrounds that interact directly with your efforts. Gun turrets extend out of metal hatches, tanks roll straight off production lines, and warships bobbing gently on the tide all pelt you will bullets. But hereís the thing; itís not like I could stop and take a lot of notice of all the things shooting at me, because there are hundreds and, if I take my eye of the constant wall of bullets coming my way, I die. Hell, odds are, I die anyway.

The first level, you know, the easy one designed to ease you into the game, is constantly awash with ground forces rolling out of hangers and helicopters flooding the screen in staggering numbers. To the gameís credit, youíre given every chance to survive the onslaught. You come equipped with screen-clearing bombs and your hit box is clearly marked on your craft, giving you the ability to plot improbable courses through mazes of bullets. Smashing through these obstacles leaves scorched craters in the ground, or debris flying around the screen.

Survive these, and the air fortress ten times your size that shows up to be a plasma-spewing nightmare of a mid-level dogfight, and youíll find the gameís first boss fights is already ridiculous. You're hovering over a canal reflecting the dying embers of the evening sun in a WWII fighter plane, guided by the spirit of your dead co-pilot who, by the way, can transform the plane into her holding a giant cannon. Youíre fighting an evil ninja hovering around ominously. Heís wearing a blue cape and yelling at you.

Akai Katana asset

The ways in which he tries to exterminate you are, frankly, beautiful. His initial burst of pink neon bullets are randomly splayed in little groups, giving you plenty of space to scroll around them and plough missiles into his face. Show enough competence to survive that, and heíll flood the screen with serpentine waves of projectiles that, damn it, have no right looking as graceful as they do. But you can sneak through the gaps in their expanding ranks if youíre quick enough. His life bar starts to plummet, and you start to feel like you have the battle in hand.

Then he plucks an aircraft carrier into the air from the waters below.

Then the carrier starts firing a starburst of rotating laser beams that cuts the screen into claustrophobic pockets.

Then, just for kicks, he picks up a couple more.

Oh, heís still firing off his own offence, but thatís not enough. Why should it be when youíre able to use several hundred tons of metal for a convenient shield that just so happens to be filled with fully-loaded gun turrets? And heís the first bloody boss! The easy one!

It would be unfair not to mentioned how hard Akai Katana tries to ensure you at least stand a chance against these kinds of odds. By collecting energy pick-ups from slain foes, you can use your spirit summon to not only bolster your attack, but give you some chance of seeing off screens of bullets. Used correctly, and your summon can repel enemy attacks, bouncing them right back at them and, with a bit of practice, youíll learn to collect a screen filled with these shots, then destroy them and cause an insane chain reaction for a massive score overhaul. Which is insanely gratifying. These summons are used slightly differently in two of the game modes. In Origin, a straight copy of the original arcade game, they do all the above. Slash and Climax are both 16:9 remasters of the originalís 4:3 aspect, and add in the ability to collect steel orbs and massive katanas to orbit around your summon and do ungodly amounts of damage if used correctly.

Akai Katana asset

While the remasters are very much appreciated (theyíre more or less the same as each other, but with Climax rebalancing some aspects and adding in a lot more bullets out of sheer spite), Origin remains the only version to allow for co-op play. You can understand why to an extent; if youíre looking to rack up a humongous score, you donít want some jerk in the second fighter to balls it all up with an ill-timed bomb or a spot of kill-stealing, but, if thatís the case, you could just not invite anyone else to play. Itís a noticeable absence that does drag down what, in every other aspect, are easily the better versions to play the game on and means that, if you want to hit up a two player game (local only!) you have to do so without any of the cool new additions exclusive to the 360 version.

Itís not going to stop Akai Katana from coming highly recommended, though. It doesnít have the length or the theatrical flair of a game like Deatmsmiles, but I managed to get a handle on KatanaĎs high scoring mechanics a lot sooner. I still remember the first time I suckered in a tidal wave of bullets, reflecting and pulling them back in on whim until I pulled the trigger and exploded them into hundreds of little golden tokens that sent my score rocketing into the millions. I saved the replay and I show disinterested people every half chance I get. I still remember the time I danced through a forest of plasma to unload a dozen building-sized katana into the gloating form of a floating female ninja in a bodice. What I donít remember is just how many times Iíve died during my time in. So many deaths, so many bulletsÖ

I should be frustrated and complaining about cheapness. If thatís the case, why is it I canít stop playing?


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (May 12, 2012)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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zippdementia posted May 14, 2012:

spirit of your dead co-pilot who, but the way, can transform

But the way! That's an awesome typo worthy of an awesome review. I enjoyed this a lot. So is this a remake, then? And is it an Xbox Live download?
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EmP posted May 14, 2012:

Yes and no, and no. It's a arcade port and an upgarde all rolled into one and depending on what game modes you go for. And, no, it's not a download. It's a full release on a lower price here. It's released in the 'states tomorrow. People should be buying it. Then, they should go pick up Deathsmiles while they're at it.

Thanks for the catch! I had a little spruce up of the review while I was in there fixing it.
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pickhut posted May 14, 2012:

Fuuuuu! I currently have a backlog of games to play, but I guess I'll purchase this on its release date just to support a new shoot-em-up release. >_<

Good review too, EmP!
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honestgamer posted May 14, 2012:

What does it feel like to not have a backlog? I can't even remember!
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zippdementia posted May 17, 2012:

Finally read the new version. Much improved, EMP! And those pictures rock my world.
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wolfqueen001 posted June 05, 2012:

This is a great review, thoroughly descriptive and entertaining. Sorry it took so long to read. Unfortunately, the sheer challenge of the game, while potentially exciting, may also put me off it simply because shooters aren't really my strength. But, who knows; maybe one day if I ever get a 360 I'll buckle and give it a go. :P

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