I love the gaming convention circuit, especially PAX shows, because it gives me a chance to see a game grow. Last time I saw Katana Zero, the game's premise instantly hooked me: you're a samurai-style hitman hopped up on an experimental drug that lets you predict the future. You have to kill your way through a countless number of guards to reach your ultimate target and your drug-enhanced senses allow you to run through scenario after scenario until you find one where you're the last man standing.
You have a limited set of moves available - slash, grab and throw, and dodge roll - but you can make vicious magic with those moves. Slashing enemies with your sword kills them, but a well-timed slash can also deflect bullets. Thrown objects are found in each level, giving you range you wouldn't have otherwise. The dodge roll carries you through bullets unscathed, but can also be used to pass through laser traps. Finally, there's the ability to slow down time for short periods, making it easier to pull off twitch-reflex moves like bullet deflections.
You'll die in Katana Zero. You'll toss life after life into the fire trying to find the right way to kill everyone. Every level is a puzzle whose solution is the perfect symphony of violence. Grab that vase, break down the door to take out one guy, throw the vase at his friend, dodge roll through the first bullet that comes flying your way... oops. The second shot killed you. Okay, grab the vase, break down the door to off guy #1, time your slash to trade swords with guy #2, kill him while he's stunned, and throw the vase at the third guard. Damn, there was another guard waiting for you. Let's try again.
On a new level, you'll die every minute or so trying to figure out what you need to do. Deaths come fast and furious and every death brings you closer to a solution. When you finally find that solution, it feels so goddamn satisfying.
Katana Zero isn't just excellent moment-to-moment gameplay. There's also a kickin' dialog system. Each line said to your character is on a timer. You can interrupt people outright before they finish, but waiting gives you more available answers.
In the demo's second level, there's a secretary sitting at a hotel check-in desk. If you end up being rude to her, when you finish the level, she'll call you out to the guards on duty. Instead of being mean, I convinced her that I was an actor filming an indie movie at the location. When the guards questioned me later after making my kill, the secretary stepped up and explained to them that I was an actor and blood they saw was fake. The player before me was rude and had to deal with a tough firefight. Always be kind, my friends.
I had a blast playing Katana Zero again. Part of why I come to conventions like PAX East is not only to see new gems, but to see previous favorites continue to grow. Katana Zero is getting better and I'm pretty sure what I've played is only scratching the surface. If you're at PAX East, stop by the Adult Swim Games booth and you might get a taste of Katana Zero. Otherwise, you'll have to wait until it releases sometime in 2016. It'll be worth the wait, I'm sure.