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Akai Katana Xbox 360 Review

I simply love companies like Rising Star Games. They do their utmost best to bring us niche titles that big publishers simply would never touch. We have to thank them for bringing games like The King of Fighters XIII, the Harvest Moon series, Half-Minute Hero, Muramasa and Little King’s Story. Rising Star Games also deals with distributing Cave’s hardcore bullet hell shoot-em-ups. That’s good to know since Cave is the forerunners in the genre at the moment, and fans clamber to their newest releases like they just discovered some rare mystical treasure. The latest addition to Cave’s impressive catalogue is Akai Katana, a bullet hell shooter that when I initially saw the first screenshots gave me an impression that Cave had toned down their bizarre design in their games – yeah, I was wrong.

I’m going to be honest, I don’t know that much detail about the story of Akai Katana. From what I grasped the game is set in a parallel world where Japan’s industrial Taisho period has discovered the Blood Swords, powerful blades with destructive powers that need human sacrifices to work. Picking from one of three rebels and their devastating fighter planes, it’s the player’s job to overthrow the empire and – wait, why am I even telling you? I mean who plays bullet hell games for the story anyway? It’s about the addictive arcade action, and Akai Katana is full of it.

If you are not sure exactly how Akai Katana plays then think of it as the demon offspring from normal shoot-em-ups like Xevious and R-Type. Bullets litter your screen like ants around jam as you fly horizontal. To survive you need to put your eye-hand coordination to the test, sliding your little ship between the gaps in the waves of bullets to live for another few seconds before the next bombardment of bullets comes across the screen. For the untrained it might seem ridiculous and impossible to get through the levels without using plenty of continues, but the idea is to train and learn how to dodge the enemy patterns until you’re smashing high scores on the leaderboards. It’s this addictive nature that makes bullet-hell games a lot of fun to play.

To get to the echelon of the high score board you’ll have to master Akai Katana’s mechanics. I recommend reading the manual or looking at the tutorial video or you won’t be able to understand what you are supposed to do to gain some of these 9-10 digit high scores. The fighter plane you pilot has two modes of attacking, defence mode and attack mode. Defence mode is on when you aren’t shooting or when you only tap the shoot button to fire. While you’re killing in defence mode you’ll gain steel that should be collected to build up your stash, the more steel you have the more you can launch at your enemies when you change from your Fighter mode to Phantom mode, allowing you to blast through bullets and gain Katana’s for Phantom mode.

Phantom mode’s time is based around how much energy you have stored. Energy shares a bar that’s connected to your life metre, the less life you have the more energy you can stock and in turn giving you more time in the powerful Phantom mode. This is where attack mode comes in handy as destroyed enemies – when hit in attack mode – release energy instead of steel. Phantom mode also has the two attack or defence modes. Defence gives you a shield that can fend off bullets, and attack shoots out powerful huge katana bullets decimating enemies that cross its path. There’s even more stuff that I could go into more detail, like suicide bullets, but I’ll leave the rest for you to find out. All you should know is that Akai Katana is deeper than what is first led to believe.

Built in the package are three versions of Akai Katana. Slash seems to be the main focus as the game selects that at the start up. It’s a special Xbox 360 version of Akai Katana and displays in a widescreen format and plays like described in the above paragraphs. Origin mode is a simple port of the arcade version, displayed in 4:3 and missing some of the more advance gameplay mechanics that’s in Slash mode. Lastly, Climax mode is a sort of remix of the Origin mode, but faster and harder – a mode for experts of the genre.

The visuals are what threw me off as the industrial warplanes and tanks aren’t something I’m familiar with in Cave shooters, certainly the colour scheme isn’t too, with these black and green coloured vehicles filling up the screen. This colour scheme does let you focus easier on the brightly lit characters, bullets and missiles, but it doesn’t seem Cave-like after playing their recent bullet-hell games. All the models are done with sharp, detailed sprites that give off a retro feeling. Sounds are constantly pumped with explosions and bullet shots, but when you do get to hear the rocky guitar solo filled soundtrack and its fast paced beats it just seems to fit right with the aesthetics and gameplay.

Fans of bullet hell games are going to enjoy the gameplay mechanics of Akai Katana. It’s a great solid shoot-em-up that once you master its in-depth mechanics you’ll become captivated by its addictive gameplay. It doesn’t do anything to push the genre, but then that was never its intended aim. It also won’t do anything for people who don’t like these games, but for people who love putting their sharp dodging and shooting skills to the test then Akai Katana will be a welcoming pleasure for you as Cave once again shows why they are the rulers of the genre.

8 out of 10