Akai Katana review
There are still plenty of fans out there who appreciate a good “shmup” — shoot ‘em up, for short — especially the “bullet hell” variety. These are shooters where ammunition comes flying at you from every single angle, and you need split-second timing or a hell of a lot of power-ups just to stay in one piece. Cave has been a mastermind developer of these sort of games, between such releases as DeathSmiles and its sequel, as well as Dodonpachi Resurrection. Unfortunately, outside of the iPad, it doesn’t see much distribution of its work on consoles. That’s why we’re happy to see Akai Katana get its due for Xbox 360, thanks to Rising Star Games.
The game features a simple storyline — rebels fight back against a corrupt Emperor who has come to embrace a power known as Guiding Ore in the beginning of Japan’s industrial age — but it sets the stage for some epic “shmup” battles. Your lone hero shoots back at enemies while occasionally dropping the mega-ton bomb to clear the screen or embrace a special Defense ability, where they can slow bullets surrounding them or unleash an attack that can put the hurt on stronger enemies. How you tactically balance these abilities out is part of the fun — and certainly bumps up your score.
Akai Katana follows the same “bullet hell” formula that Cave has come to perfect over the years, as you’ll need to carefully balance your abilities and bombs to avoid succumbing to the enemy barrages that constantly come your way. It’s a solid gameplay system — one that will have you collecting orbs and katanas and trying to keep your performance on the up-and-up, if you can.
What’s more, the game offers different modes to play through, including the original arcade game (Origin Mode), a widescreen version (Slash Mode) and one built specifically for the Xbox 360, probably the best of the bunch (Climax Mode). No matter which one you choose, you can continuously gun for the high score against others through online leaderboards. That’s about as competitive as online gets, since the game doesn’t offer co-op through Xbox Live. Maybe the game couldn’t take it, since it runs into enough slowdown as it is.
This is easily one of Cave’s better looking games, even though it doesn’t have the same fantasy setting as the DeathSmiles efforts. The hand-drawn backdrops and animations are simply gorgeous, and even though the frame rate chugs at times, it’s always bewildering to watch. The music is great too, and it’s nice to hear the original Japanese dialogue. This is one instance where Rising Star Games didn’t bother with US translation — which is fine by us.
For $39.99 ($20 below the usual price for Xbox 360 games), Akai Katana is a must-own for fans of “shmups” and quirky Xbox 360 fare. It’s difficult in spots (especially the later stages) and runs out of stages rather quickly (you’ll blow through the game the first time in 30 minutes or so), but there’s no question it’s a “bullet hell” load of fun.