There is something mysterious and captivating about ninjas. Their secretive ways, high levels of discipline and deadly skills make them a worthy adversary for the most battle-hardened individuals. Years of training are necessary to perfect each technique required to become a master. This is before you consider the demands placed upon their mental state. Every fighter must be coached and guided by a Sensei. They are a someone that is; respected, quietly feared, and demands your all. Can you imagine the disappointment they must feel when their pupils let them down? Years of training wasted on a person who cannot make the grade! They may have the fighting prowess, but lack the mental discipline. This is the story behind Katana Kata, an indie fighting game that demands perfect timing, patience and understanding.
Developed by Stas Shostak and published by Samustai Limited, Katana Kata is a 3D fighting game that will test your ability to balance when to fight, and when to dodge. Not all battles can be won with one slice of a blade, so planning and observing your foes is a must.
A tired story, and a simple concept.
There is unfortunately very little originality in the plot. You are the last apprentice that the Sensei has at his dojo. You are haunted by a shadow warrior that fights you every night. Your master puts this vision down to an internal struggle and sees this as a positive as you do not stop questioning your abilities. His previous pupils mastered the skills, but they all failed to push themselves mentally. Each of them left the safety of the dojo, and now they wish to cause problems for you and the people of this quiet community. You must venture into the wilderness, attacking every; Sumo, warrior, karate expert and master that you find.
The game takes place over 5 stages; Bath House, Garden, Lake, Waterfall and Castle. As you progress through each one, you note enemies get progressively tougher, and weapons improve to ensure that the difficulty stays on track. Each of the levels is small, but offers a fair amount of challenge. This is assisted by the use of a single life, and rogue-like features. If you die (and you will), you will face your shadow nemesis in a 1V1 duel. Defeat this fighting expert and you continue where you left off. But fail, and all your XP, your active perks and your weapons are stripped away from you. You are also expected to start your run through from the beginning level, though you can cheat if you so wish.
It’s a brutal approach.
This tough mechanic will break some players. A lack of healing potions causes you to enter a battle already battered and bruised. The dodge mechanic uses a high amount of your stamina (breath), and enemies can swarm you quickly. If you then realise that your weapon can break unless you use a whetstone, you know you are in for a chastising experience. Like the potions, the whetstones are limited, so your equipment will break. Luckily, swords can be found in the grips of your fallen foes. So replacing damaged tools, or finding new weapons can be done regularly.
Your ninja is well trained, but he is still a rookie. As he slashes his way through the sea of people he faces, he gains XP. This can then level up 4 attributes; Strength, Health, Dexterity and Breath. Each is denoted by its own colour, and each multiplies the base skill of the hero. Alongside these improvements, you can gain temporary perks from certain warriors. They are easily spotted as they carry a coloured flag on their back. Once you slay them, you can collect your reward and equip it at a Buddha statue. Yes, a Buddha statue helps to make you; faster, stronger, healthier and battle longer. It adds a nice touch that matches the theme, but wow, was it clichéd.
Gore and low detail.
Katana Kata uses a cool wash of colours across every stage. This weird stylistic choice gives the game a computerised feel, similar to a Holodeck, or something out of The Matrix. It was all very bizarre, but worked really well because of the size of the levels. Each character is drawn with a small amount of detail, and each individual class was usually identified by the weapon they wielded, or the armour they wore. Every stage has a unique look, and you could instantly tell the difference between them, but it still wasn’t enough to wow me. What I was impressed with, however, was the decapitation of limbs, and the bodies left strewn around the map. This gory touch was glorious, disgusting, and just what the doctor ordered. Overall, it works well as an indie presentation, and I enjoyed the direction that Stas Shotak had taken.
And now we are back to the clichés. The audio screams 80s martial arts film, where an oriental soundtrack chimes away in the background, unnecessarily creating the impression that you are fighting in a Tibetan monastery. The swishing of swords, thuds of hands and feet, and the screams of battles were all great, if not a bit OTT. For all its ridiculous ways, I actually loved the audio! It was cheesy, unnecessary, made me smile, and it works well with the theme and style.
Limited controls that are tough to master.
A simple button layout, and a good tutorial are normally enough to set me on my way. Unfortunately, in Katana Kata not all elements are clearly explained. It takes a considerable amount of trial and error to learn the finer points. Mastering the controls is not an easy matter, as this isn’t helped by some aiming issues and button lag. When you attempt a power hit, you no longer can aim, so enemies move and you swing into fresh air. This happens a lot, and almost renders this powerhouse attack useless. In order to get the most out of this, you must practice and fail an awful lot to master a not so perfect control system.
With only 5 small levels, it would be fair to consider this a tiny game. Content wise, that is a fair statement, but that can’t be said for the gameplay. With such a high difficulty, many perks to collect, and an array of warriors to face, you will return to each stage to slice off some limbs. Sadly though, each playthrough is exactly the same as enemies are in the same position each time. This rinse and repeat approach was lazy, and should be looked at ASAP. If the developers want its player base to keep playing, this should be made a priority.
Katana Kata is a tough but fun game in short bursts.
This is one of those titles that you will need to play casually. It’s great fun when approached in manageable chunks, but it becomes tiresome quickly because of the aforementioned issues. If the developer added in additional challenges, an NG+ mode, or more levels, then it would improve this no end. I recommend Katana Kata it in its current build as its; tough, gory, will test your patience, and you can buy a copy here! Can you make your Sensei proud? Will you be able to take down his previous pupils and bring peace to the realm? Grab your sword and slice your way to victory.