The recent collaborative effort between Rising Star Games and CAVE has seen some fantastic titles be made available in PAL territories that otherwise might have passed us by. Deathsmiles: Deluxe Edition and Dodonpachi Resurrection: Deluxe Edition are the most obvious examples, but there are also a number of other releases that CAVE may not have had the courage to localise, such as NIN-2 JUMP and the Windows Phone 7 release of Dodonpachi Maximum. The third title to come by way of the UK based publisher however, is arguably the best of all.
Akai Katana uses the same foundations for the scrolling shoot-‘em-up genre that would be expected. The screen scrolls automatically and in a more tradition manner than Deathsmiles: Deluxe Edition, and the player commands a ship with a hitbox sized almost identically to that of Dodonpachi Resurrection: Deluxe Edition. The bullet hell gameplay still retains the basis of different colour and size bullets, each moving in different formations and at different speeds, and it’s up to the player to study these differences and learn to play their movements ahead of the approaching waves. The player chooses from one of three craft types, has two fire modes, two attack modes and bombs. So far so normal, but it’s in the field of expert players that Akai Katana makes its mark.
During play the player has the ability to transform their ship into Phantom mode for a limited time. Here the fire modes change significantly, and the player is gifted with a free hit, offering Phantom mode as an escape as well as a tactical option. The change between the two ship modes is actually a gateway to more combat variations: the Steel Orbs and titular Katanas. As the ship, a player can acquire Steel Orbs through use of their external turret, known as the Scared Spirit, and the primary fire function. Accumulated Steel Orbs will be launched as a devastating single attack when changing to the Phantom. Likewise, Katanas are accumulated when in Phantom mode and assaulting the enemy with the laser attack, and then launched by manually changing back to your basic ship. The skill in Akai Katana is using the katana and orb system to maximise impact and scores.
Akai Katana features three gameplay modes, each with a slightly different premise. The mode at the forefront of the videogame is known as Slash (aka Akai Katana Shin), and is a pure adrenaline rush gameplay arrangement. Steel orbs and Katana are available with abandon, and chaining together thousand-hit combos isn’t just encouraged, it’s a fundamental part of the mode. The Origin mode is the original Akai Katana videogame, which presents a different arrangement of enemies presented with the original screen resolution. The third and final gameplay mode is Score Attack, which offers just one life to attain as high a score as possible.
The quality of Akai Katana’s production is evidenced by its visual design. Tanks, planes and aircraft carriers may sound fairly run-of-the-mill, but here in Akai Katana everything takes on a significantly personalised form. To suggest that the imagery is cartoon in nature would give the wrong impression, but it’s certainly closer to a ‘serious’ version of Metal Slug than any real world design. The soundtrack is less impressive, using tried videogame tropes as the basis for its repetitive delivery.
That Rising Star Games has already delivered two of CAVE’s critically acclaimed shoot-‘em-ups to European audiences could be seen as noteworthy enough, but with Akai Katana they’ve pushed the envelope one stage further. Akai Katana is a fantastic, engrossing and immaculately designed shoot-‘em-up videogame, arguably leading the genre on the current-generation, and more than welcome in the Xbox 360’s software catalogue. Akai Katana is quite simply the finest CAVE videogame Europeans have yet seen an official release of, and one of the best titles Rising Star Games has even been able to take credit for bringing us.