Akai Katana Review (360)
Unlike most modern games, reading the manual for Akai Katana is essential. Not only is the games entire story contained within (threadbare even for a shoot ’em up), it is also vital for understanding the more complicated aspects of the game.
Like Cave’s other titles Akai Katana offers multiple different game modes. Origin mode is a straight port of the original arcade version, Climax mode is similar to origin mode but optimized for the Xbox 360 and Slash mode is a new version designed from the start for consoles.
Origin/Climax mode will feel familiar to anyone with experience of the genre. The game offers the usual choice of three player characters, in this case ace pilots in abstract planes somewhat similar to second world war fighter planes. Each plane is capable of both attack and defence modes and comes with a sacred spirit weapons system. Defence move allows the plane to move faster, allowing it to destroy enemies up close in order to pick up energy items and fill the energy gauge. In attack mode the plane slows down but shots from the sacred spirit become more powerful. Energy items will now orbit the spirit, growing as enemy bullets pass over them, and are picked up when shifting back to defence mode.
Collection of energy items is important as Akai Katana’s power up, phantom mode, continually drains the energy gauge. As a phantom the defence and attack modes are much more powerful, in defence mode the phantom is invulnerable, deflecting enemy bullets, while in attack mode it uses a powerful guiding cannon attack. While in phantom mode destroyed enemies drop score items. These orbit the phantom and can be grown in the same way as energy items. Phantom mode can be cancelled at any time and doesn’t require the energy gauge to be full in order to activate it. Carefull planning of when to use it and management of the energy gauge are key to success and building a high score.
While the mechanics of origin/climax mode are reasonably simple to grasp the same can not be said about slash mode. In addition to energy items enemies will now drop steel orbs. The steel orbs will orbit the plane and can be used to attack enemies while in phantom mode. Each time an enemy is destroyed by an orb the phantom gains one katana up to a maximum of sixteen. Cancelling out of phantom mode launches these katanas at the enemy in a powerful, screen clearing attack. Proper use of orbs and katanas is required in order to gain high score.
All modes come with infinite credits, although the score is reset with each continue so finishing the game with one credit is essential if you are looking at high score run. Origin and Slash modes also come with a novice setting which is useful for learning the mechanics. Being a side scrolling shooter allows for Climax and Slash modes to be presented in full widescreen removing the wasted space of origin. Both modes are also much better suited to the 360 controller than previous games, though an arcade stick is still preferable.
With slash mode being overly complicated and climax mode making origin mode feel redundant Akai Katana does not offer much value for bullet Hell novices, particularly in comparison to previous release Dodonpachi Resurrection. On the other hand veterans of the genre are in for a treat as this is undoubtedly the best console version of any of Cave’s games to date.
8 deftly dodged balletic bullet barrages out of 10