Japanese developers, Cave, are best known for their manic full-on arcade shoot em ups and more recently Akai Katana – newly released in European territories from publishers, Rising Star Games, it is a high quality manic title that sucks you into its addictive spell…
Despite being an arcade based 2D shoot-em-up on a retail disc, Akai Katana has a story through-out; not that it’s overly evident since 99.5% of the game is spent flying your aircraft through the skies of a heavily industrial built Japan – but there is a purpose to your offensive manoeuvres and deathly bullet shooting tactics. The game takes you into the age of Taisho, an era mirroring the years of industrial expansion in Japan, full of hope for reconstruction, but a new energy source: a mineral called Guiding Ore has been discovered that has replaced both coal and electricity. Not only is Guiding Ore one of the most powerful natural resources on the planet, it can also be tempered into military blades providing them with a Guiding Katana – giving soldiers unique psychic powers and a wealth of incredible power. So you can just imagine this deathly weapon in the wrong hands!
It was this incredible power that an Emperor known as Basho had used and abused to protect his small country by going to war on neighbouring countries with an elite battalion known as the Ten Suns. Having given themselves a reputation for waging war and destruction – some members later staged a revolt with the son of the Emperor who then formed his own rebel battalion with three devastating aircraft known as Shakevolts – the very aircraft you get to use throughout the game listed as Type 1, Type 2 and Type 3 each with their own characters and individual pilot guides.
It’s a great story, even if you never really get to see it due to be being hindered by the on screen wave of attacking aircraft it becomes a game of survival if anything else. Whilst being surrounded by industrial Japanese scenery and heavily armoured war machines it’s an action packed shoot em up that keeps you on your toes with a vast amount of attacking and defending mechanisms.
There are three different variations of Akai Katana included:
Akai Katana: Origin Mode – a direct port of the arcade version with the same game system untouched in 4:3 screen resolutions. Akai Katana: Slash Mode – improved widescreen visuals and from Origin Mode and a new improved game scoring system that will appeal to leaderboard fanatics who want to show off their levels of excellence. Finally, Akai Katana: Climax Mode – an exclusive Xbox 360 mode in full widescreen format with additional tweaks to improve the gameplay. Aircraft speed rebalanced, Energy Recharge Improved, Item drops and generated bullets have been significantly increased. It’s the most difficult of modes and a challenging game type that pans out as a longer gaming experience to the traditional Origin Mode due to its increased difficulty.
In all modes you start the game by selecting your character and they each come with their own separate aircraft from Type 1: Marigold, Type 2: Orchid and Type 3: Sakura. Along with your guiding katana who also has fire power, you enter the Japanese world in your chosen aircraft as an insane amount of bullets from the enemy come hurtling from all directions to try and take you out of the skies. You have two option’s available assuming you don’t want to die – Defend or Attack. In Defence mode your aircraft will fire a powerful attack whilst Sacred Spirits follow you on a course to safety firing against the wave of enemies. However, the most common and best action of defence is to attack – in attack mode your aircraft’s speed is somewhat slower, but your firing options will hit with more power and you are freely able to collect ‘Energy’.
Energy in Akai Katana is the force behind summoning your Phantom, the ultimate force in both attacking and defending with a higher attack power than any aircraft. After picking up enough Energy drops from downing enemies you can summon your Phantom who will replace your on-screen aircraft in form for a short amount of time. In Defence mode your Phantom will protect themselves with a huge shield that can repel anything – and in the alternate Attack mode you will shoot off a huge laser that will destroy enemies and their bullets. If there are a heavy inbound amount of enemies on screen, in Attack Mode with your Phantom you can create a chain reaction of multiple hits to destroy other enemies and other bullets heading towards you. This racks up the points and sure to shift your leaderboard status when mastered to its full potential.
One of the noticeable improvements in Slash Mode from Origin is the ability to not only collect Energy, but also Steel Orbs and Katanas after you have defeated an enemy aircraft. Steel Orbs will attach themselves to your aircraft and when you have enough in stock you can use Phantom mode to launch them at oncoming enemies. The same applies for Katanas – once you have launched a Steel Orb at an enemy aircraft it will produce a Katana which you can collect whilst in Phantom mode, holding enough Katanas will allow you to clear a huge enemy onslaught in a more powerful way than before earning you a mass of large score in the process.
With the use of Energy, Orbs, Katana’s, summoning up your Phantom, and even Bombs, it does have a strategic approach to how you attack rather than just move your aircraft around the screen and shoot. This comes more into effect when you encounter one of the game’s extremely difficult end of chapter bosses, but thanks to the Continues, system in place where you can reappear and carry on from where you left off, persistence most definitely prevails.
The controls are easy to master with the game just involving the use of controlling the direction of your aircraft or phantom, and a few buttons set up to summon, shoot and drop your bombs. All the on-screen action and continued wave of enemies can get a bit manic at times as it’s a very busy game!
Visually, the game is more on par with most Arcade games than other retail titles; which brings the question as to why Akai Katana was not ported for the Xbox LIVE Arcade instead? It’s an Arcade quality game which isn’t over lengthy and can be completed within the hour depending on how you play and difficulty settings. For a more challenging experience, Climax Mode will suit you and all modes can be also played in 2 player co-operatively locally.
There’s no online co-operative play over Xbox LIVE, which is a real shame – but you can compete for scores online and even upload and download game Replays, a kind of theatre mode for Akai Katana to watch the skill (or lack of) in other players over Xbox LIVE.
Despite being better suited to the Xbox LIVE Arcade, it’s actually a great game albeit a short one. It does offer lots of replay value with the different game modes and competitive leaderboard scoring, and as shoot em up goes – it can’t get much better this, just annoying it doesn’t come with support for Xbox LIVE friends.
Worthy of your cash – most definitely, the game is not priced as a full retail title, so if you’ve been interested in grabbing Akai Katana for yourself – go for it!