While Cave has usually stuck to 2D vertical scrolling shooters they have started to experiment adding in horizontal scrolling to the mix as well with splendid results as you will see in Akai Katana. If you are new to the genre then within the first few seconds you are going to think WTF?!!! As you discover the ‘bullet hell’ the genre is well known for. However Cave has implemented the tools to not only allow you to enjoy the game but also become better and personalize your style of play to a certain degree. I won’t lie the game is challenging but that’s why you have free-play, however it does have a great learning curve attached and even new comers will get to see all the characters endings.
There are 3 different modes to play, Origin mode which is the port of the arcade original only playable in 4:3 format. Next we have Slash mode which adds a new game system different from the arcade, which if you are new to the genre then you might want to begin with this one. Finally we have Climax mode with 16:9 support and which is tweaked to offer more of a challenge for the people that are Shoot’em up legends and can complete the game with one credit. You then have a choice of 3 fighters which each has there own firing pattern, which will make your battle of survival more or less dangerous. You also have a partner character – unique to each of the 3 characters - which comes into play when you switch to phantom mode. You will do will to learn the best times to switch if you want to rack up those high scores.
Visually this game is somewhat a masterpiece of 2D art for the genre. Each of the stages have unique environments fitting for the era and some of the most insane but engrossing bullet patterns I’ve seen in 2D shooters. Having a zillion bullets around you in various patterns with everything else that’s going on is just a joy to see. As you can adjust the size of the gameplay screen Cave has also been kind enough to allow you to change the wallpaper in the background with some very nice art work from the game. I found this to be a nice touch and possibly just one of the reasons as to why this was put on retail rather than XBLA. The games soundtrack while not memorable gels well with the gameplay.
At the core of Akai Katana it’s all about the gameplay and visual presentation with the story coming in second place. However Cave also did a great job with that as well, giving the three characters their own individual endings. The story takes place in the age of Taisho era in Japan, where the Emperor discovers a new energy source and takes said energy to wage war on neighbouring countries. You select one of three characters and dive straight into the carnage in the hope you can defeat the Emperor, however the endings will not be what you expect unless you’re already a Cave fan and know their work.
The Good Things
- This game is accessible and enjoyable by players of all skill levels with a decent story line attached including individual character endings.
- The visuals in the game are just stunning, even when you are surrounded by enough bullets to take out a bloody planet!
- Not too deep a difficulty curve for the genre, but you will want to break out those Jedi powers in the later stages and boss battles.
- Online leaderboards will keep you playing for the highest score.
And The Bad
- Some will find it quite short with it taking around an hour to complete at most. That said however any longer would make it feel just way too repetitive.
- Only has 2 player local and not online.
Traditionally these games were made to make you part with all your quarters in arcades with attractive visuals and challenging gameplay which Akai Katana has in bucket loads. While that difficulty boarders on insanity in later stages, Akai Katana is still very accessible to players of all skill levels while having the tools to help you become a master if you are willing to put in the dedication. I thank Cave and Rising Star Games for continually supporting the genre and bringing these experiences to us European gamers.
A 'bullet hell' masterpiece with splendid visuals and art work. Another Cave classic.