Akai Katana Review
Akai Katana Shin is a well-crafted dose of over-the-top bullet-hell action.
- Intricate and clever stage design
- Multiple modes offer lots of depth
- Over-the-top retro visuals
- Plenty of challenge for seasoned players.
- Main campaign is very short.
There's nothing quite like a good old-fashioned shoot-'em-up to get your pulse racing and your thumbs twitching. And if there's one company that knows a thing or two about hurling a barrage of beautifully crafted bullets at you, it's Cave. Akai Katana Shin (known simply as Akai Katana in the UK) is the latest in the studio's line of psychedelic, 2D arcade shooters to make its way to the Xbox 360, bringing with it an impressive array of gloriously over-the-top visuals, expertly crafted stages, and a lot of depth that make chasing high scores an absolute blast.
That's fortunate, because there's certainly not much of a story to keep you entertained. You play as a rebellious pilot dedicated to blowing up your former masters. The who and why are buried in the manual; all you're given is a choice between three different rebels, each with their own craft and special power. The craft they pilot are modelled after World War II-era planes, but despite their apparent age, they have the uncanny ability to fire waves of laser bullets and unleash devastating energy attacks.
Those bullets are put to good use throughout all six of Akai Katana Shin's stages, where you pilot your fighter across great-looking retro 2D backdrops set across land, sea, and air, and blow the living crap out of a range of tanks, planes, and turrets. Of course, they don't go down without a fight. There are streams of bullets to negotiate, some of which create mazelike patterns for you to navigate your way through, while others home in on you, requiring you to weave your way through the tightest of spaces to survive.
Akai Katana Shin is challenging but also satisfying to play. There's a great feeling of accomplishment when you make your way through one of the intricately designed 2D bullet mazes unscathed. The slightest twitch of your thumb can take you from a dangerous situation to a high-scoring one. If a bullet does hit you, all is not lost. You have three lives with which to make it through to the end of a stage, as well as three smart bombs that destroy all the bullets onscreen and deal damage to enemies.
You also have the option to use a special support character called a phantom, whom you can call upon to dish out some mega-damage. What exactly you can do with the phantom depends on what mode you're in. In Origin mode (a straight port of the arcade original), your phantom can deflect bullets, but only for as long as you have energy, which you collect from destroyed enemies. If you ration out your special ability, an extra layer of strategy is added to the action, making it more than just a test of your reflexes.
That's just the tip of the iceberg in Akai Katana Shin. Load up Slash mode and a whole heap of new features adds a huge amount of depth. Here, your ship has two modes, attack and defence, which are activated by holding down the attack button or by pressing it repeatedly. This affects which pickups you receive, as well as the speed of your ship. In attack mode, you gather energy and move more slowly, and in defence mode, you gather steel and move faster.
Gather enough steel, and you can launch it at enemies in Phantom mode. Time it just right and move in close enough, and you can net a huge score bonus, which is represented by hundreds of spinning golden coins that fill the screen in a frenzy of sparkles. When playing as your phantom, you also have the option of collecting Katana Shins that are dropped by enemies when you shoot them in defence mode. Once you've gathered enough, you can unleash them upon unsuspecting enemies for a gratuitous, neon-blast of an attack that nets you an even bigger score bonus.
You're encouraged to strategize and plan out where flipping back and forth between defence and attack modes, and between the phantom and your fighter, nets you the highest scores. It's an addictive and entertaining experience that keeps you wanting just one more go until you get it spot-on. It's enough to make you forget that Akai Katana Shin is otherwise a very short game; with just six stages and a handful of bosses to battle, you can whiz through it in under an hour.
You'll want to go back after finishing it, though, thanks to integrated online leaderboards that remind you of just how many points you could be getting. And if you're wondering just how to reach the really high scores, you can replay other players' games in their entirety, as well as upload your own runs for others.
If you find yourself hitting the top of the leaderboards too often and fancy more of a challenge, check out Climax mode. It's a variation of Origin mode, except there are more-complex bullet patterns to avoid, and a lot more of them. It's fiendishly difficult, but a great challenge for those with the requisite skills. Whichever mode you play in, a friend can jump in for some offline two-player action, and there are separate sets of leaderboards dedicated to two-player runs to try to reach the top of.
And that's what Akai Katana Shin is all about really, the never-ending chase of that elusive number one spot on the leaderboards. Sure, there's nothing in the game that pushes the genre forward in any significant way, and its release at retail rather than as a downloadable game feels like a way to charge a little more cash than it's short length is worth. But the shooting is so tight and the stages so well designed that it reminds you that sometimes you don't need a revolution in game design to have a great time.
i got this game but its in japanese.....cant make any sense of whats going on on-screen or off-screen :(
Still need to pick Akai Katana up. I love Cave games and have already imported a few playable on a USA XBOX 360. $40 is a fine price point for Akai Katana, but maybe if I wait a little longer, I can also benefit from a price drop. It's not like I don't have anything else to play right now.
I am glad(for the fans of those) that those shooter find their way to the western market.
Unfortunatelly the bullet hell genre isnt my taste at all.I grew up with (today so called tactical shmups) Mr.Heli,Gradius,R-Type,Layer Section,Image Fight,Dragon Spirit just to name few(i could really continue alot more :)) and i think its a shame that games like those doesnt appeal more gamers.At least with such games like R-Type Dimensions,Radiant Silvergun and Ikaruga some jewels made their way to the west.
@sladakrobot I feel the same way. Also, I don't like how bullet hell shooters tend to feature young women/ girls as the playable characters. Just give me a spaceship!
I went looking for this on XBLA yesterday. From watching the gameplay I just assumed it would be downloadable. Hopefully they at least release a demo.
@SlimeSwayze This is a full retail game. And there is, nor will there be, a demo. But since the retail price is around $39,99, I would certainly pick it up if I were you!
@RE4GreatesGame I'll be the first to admit that I prefer the Playstation 3 and it's catalogue over the 360. But the 360's stronger lineup of arcade games is what makes the system so appealing and that's why I own one. Arcade games are fast paced and easy to pick up. A nice change from conventional games. Plus you won't find many Shumps on the PS3, shumps like Sine Mora, DoDonpachi and of course Akai Katana are only on the 360. Variety is the spice of life and I'm glad each game system has it's own unique direction in it's marketing and game development.
@robertwarnes91 Dude, that RE4greatest a-hole is a troll. I've never see him comment serious on ANY topic. So in this case it's just better to leave him talking alone than give him the satisfaction of a answer.
Too bad people like him will show even more now that we don't thumb down any more...
@Tevi Dark Souls, the sequel to Demon's Souls is available on the 360. However Demon's Souls will always be a PS3 exclusive, due to Sony owning the rights to it and having a strong input in it's development. But Dark Souls is the next best thing and some people say it's better than Demon's Souls.
Ah console wars. It's so lovely that you guys are such tools to argue about something so freaking stupid on the interest, otherwise I wouldn't have anyone to remind me that I'm not an idiot on a daily basis.
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@RE4GreatesGame Are you that guy who just claimed he didn't want to sound biased?
@RE4GreatesGame I own both systems, and like each for various reasons besides exclusives. The only reason I'm commenting really is to let you know that abrasive fanboy attitudes like yours are easily one of the worse things a video game enthusiast has to deal with. Please don't post anymore.
Will have to get this little gem. Apparently it's not a full-priced title, so 40$ max here is what I have to find.
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@RE4GreatesGame starhawk flopped, yakuza dead souls got a measly 5.0, twisted metal can't even outscore this unknown game. And yet, xbox 360 has real AAA games this year like the witcher 2, halo 4 and more. PS3 factually has dirt this year. lol, no AAA games. Bite the pillow kid, you're about as smart as a door knob. fanboy scum.
@MafiaMusic halo 4 is not AAA its a recycled engine with recycled game play with new guns and new features much like cod... witcher 2 is not an exclusive its on pc as well... i actually favor 360 as well but not for exclusives... the exclusives on xbox are crap with the exception of the forza franchise and downloadable titles
@MafiaMusic LOL , You must have forgotten the PS3 is once again outdoing the 360 in exclusives AGAIN this year.
@RE4GreatesGame The quality of exclusives is highly subjective. Sales numbers speaks a whole lot more. The more people that buy the game, the more people like it. Dismissing sales numbers and claiming PS3 games are better simply because you say so is poor form. Besides, this is MS we're talking about. Demon's Souls was a great PS3 exclusive. What did MS do? They talked Namco into creating a multiplatform version. The next MGS is coming to the 360. Whatever PS3 has, MS will find a way to get it. That's what MS does.
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@RE4GreatesGame Also, don't get you hopes up for Gears of War on PS3. http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2011-06-15-bleszinksi-kills-gears-of-war-ps3-hope
@RE4GreatesGame @TrueGB That's a nice way to refer to Gears, and it really reinforces the idea that you're not trying to sound biased against MS and that you're trying to sound intelligent. Take the homophobia somewhere else. Second, Akai Katana is a retail release, not an XBLA game. Just wanted to clear that up, if there is any confusion. Third, From Software, and independent developer, made Demons' Souls and Dark Souls. The first was exclusive to PS3 because Sony published it in Japan. NamcoBandai did not make the second game; it just published it.
@RE4GreatesGame Spot on. It's amazing Xbox360 has sold so well because it hardly has any good exclusives outside of Gears of War, Forza, Halo and Project Gotham Racing. I think part of the reason was PS3's extremely high starting price which has allowed MS to gain a huge lead in the first 2 years of the console. Even afterwards, it took a while before PS3 was within reach of 360's price. However, given Sony's financial situation, it's doubtful they will price PS4 at $599, suggesting MS will not have a substantial price advantage next round. Add mandatory $50 annual fee for Xbox Live / Netflix streaming and worse MS exclusives, and I could see Sony doing very well next time around.
It's not always about exclusives. I have an Xbox 360 and a PS3. I buy games for the 360 because I like the controller, UI, online features and achievement system more, and it's also where most of the best downloadable games are. My PS3 is just for PS3-exclusives and blu-rays.