Akai Katana’s world is lost in a sea of familiar pink and blue bullets, a shame since despite a lack of directly identifying factors, the title lays on the pixel art thick. Backdrops are delivery mechanisms for platoons of nondescript tanks, ships, and vertical submarines, a wartime fantasy conflicted with mega-humans guarding their own sections.
It’s a layout primed for tradition, toyed with via a scoring system that involves and protects. As simple as the horizontal shooter can be, Akai Katana breaks the core down from merely firing ahead, hoping for the best. The gimmick here is a Summon, a risk/reward that repels bullets as often as it fires them. Launching said Summon requires precise handling and a build-up of energy, the game rarely letting the player feel utterly helpless. Even the standard form -one of three- is a beast.
There’s no wasted time with gained power-ups; the ship is wisely equipped at full momentum. It sort of answers the age old shooter question of why you send a ship in with a pea shooter, a tenth of its full potential. Akai Katana’s answer is logic: you don’t. Unleashing the beast instantaneously per se allows for a combo counter to reach stratospheric numbers, a system that counts each element of contact. Seeing the number breach an unseen crescendo is part of the joy.
Pushed ahead with a riff-heavy score, breathless pacing contains the Rising Star Games published affair (developed by shooter factory Cave) to the genre trait of perpetual motion, only crimped by boss fights that demand attention. Via portals, these encounters clamp down the screen real estate with personal vendetta weapons when the boss’s own arsenal proves insufficient. Scoring in these rumbles requires a different play methodology than the more open attacks of before, even if patterns are mercifully lessened (comparatively) in this era of bullet hell.
Breaking up the mixture are three game types, the differentiating factor being Slash mode, swapping energy for steel which forges unimaginably huge swords and defensive balls. The departure is sufficient enough to require tactical adjustments, and yes, spawning uber-katanas mid-flight is something that only occurs in this wild, still quite free genre. Conventions are only restricted to viewpoints.
It’s odd to consider that there’s choices on the 360 for genre hoarders, a system that has ballooned with technical masterpieces late in its life span. Akai Katana is a better fit than you’d expect, bold and rich enough to warrant a cycle on retail shelves, even if its distinctive properties are not as direct. The platform is bleeding shooters at this junction, but it’s doubtful anyone cares. Most would be willing to perform a transfusion if it meant more. Until that happens, the score rushes -and the mechanics that make such a thing possible- are a grand hold over.
Akai Katana is rated T (Teen) by the ESRB for Blood, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language.