Akai Katana Shin – PS4 Review 1

Akai Katana Shin is a collection of three versions of Akai Katana, a horizontally-scrolling shoot ’em up that debuted in arcades back in 2010 before receiving pretty much this port on the Xbox 360 in 2011.  Akai Katana is one of four horizontal shooters from the legendary developer Cave, best known for their vertical-scrolling efforts, and that’s good news because when it comes to shoot ’em ups, Cave are the absolute masters.  This collection has the arcade original, the console port and also a further version, Zetsu Akai Katana.  However it’s worth noting that while the games all sport tweaks to the gameplay, they are all essentially the same game.

The story revolves around a Japan-like country during the ‘Taisho’ period.  It’s not exactly easy to follow what’s going on but this is a time that mixes some of the aesthetics of Feudal Japan and what looks like some present day areas albeit with future technology thanks to beings who can summon objects from the future via portals.  We’re not sure what the hell it’s all about but generally it means that you can be fighting against a guy who looks like a ninja and then the next thing you know he’s summoned an entire train to mess with your life.

The game lets you pick from three playable characters, each one piloting a different aircraft and at first it’s all pretty standard stuff.  You’re over on the left, the enemies fly in from the right and you dodge their bullets and fire back your own.  As with a lot of Cave shooters, you have two fire modes along with a smart bomb.  And on a basic level, even casual players should have a blast with this.  You’ve got smooth controls, constant action and just a ridiculous number of bullets to avoid.

It’s the sort of bright, raucous shoot ’em up that grabs your attention in an arcade and then flings a load of dopamine at you in an effort to separate you from all of your pocket money and it plays great across all seven levels although it will eventually leave the casuals demoralised due to just how difficult it gets.  But, as with most Cave games, it feels fun and reactive rather than being a horrendous memory test.

Your ship, regardless of which one you pick, puts out enough firepower to put Israel to shame and so you always feel powerful, even when the odds are against you.  Sure, the bosses who punctuate each of the seven stages can be a bit bullet-spongey but on the plus side there’s no power-up system to worry about and no scenario where you get killed and then have to take on the rest of a difficult level armed with a piss-poor peashooter (we’re looking at you R-Type).

However, Cave aren’t making games for casuals and it’s in the details where you realise how complex Akai Katana is.   Your fourth button lets you ‘Soul Shift’ which turns you from aircraft to human form.  You have to have enough energy to do this (and that’s earned by using the slower moving ‘shot’ firing mode) and in this form you’ll be able to block bullets and gain big score bonuses by manipulating and cancelling enemy shots.  We’re still not 100% sure how it works because the game absolutely fails to tell you about any of this stuff.  It was in the 360 version though and that annoys us even more.  You’ll need to master this though as that invulnerability is key to surviving some of the more insane bullet patterns later in the game.

Zetsu Akai Katana keeps those same mechanics but makes some improvements (and to be honest we’re not even sure what they are) and gives you a full wide-screen aspect ratio (which is very welcome).  We found ourselves going to this one a lot because of that improved screen real estate.

The main draw here though is Akai Katana Shin and this takes the improved aspect ratio but remixes some of the gameplay elements.  Although the stages, enemies and bosses never change throughout the three modes, some of the intricacies of the Soul Shift mechanic are changed in the titular game mode.   Now when you exit your human form, you’ll fire off massive katanas at the enemy and will be able to seriously ramp up your score.

In terms of presentation the game looks great.  Cave games always look great and that’s the case here.  It’s hard to really take any notice of the backdrops but there’s a really artistic and varied selection of them but your eyes will mostly be focused on the foreground where the enemy is throwing so many pink and blue bullets at you that you’d think you’ve gotten in the middle of two competing gender reveal parties in a warzone.  However, there’s never an issue with seeing the bullets and so no instant sudden deaths coming at you from nowhere.  It’s all very exciting, especially when you start having loads of gold medals thrown at you.

The music is also suitably frantic with a very guitar-forward soundtrack that sounds like a load of solo albums from guitarists in ’80s speed metal bands.  We’re not sure we’d ever listen to it out of the context of playing the game but it works well to support the action.

This collection of ports seems pretty flawless to our untrained eyes.  There is a question of how much input lag there is on this version but we can’t say we ever felt or noticed any.  Aside from that, you’ve got online leaderboards, the ability to save replays and a few screen-tinkering options.  We would have liked a proper tutorial, after all IT DOES EXIST, and maybe a few museum features (art and music at the very least but some more in-depth features would have been nicer) but if you’re just here for the shooting, it doesn’t really get any better than Cave and this is one from their upper-middle tier.

Akai Katana Shin
8 Overall
+ Decently ported
+ Three versions of the game
+ Good controls and smooth action
+ Excellent visuals
- Where's the tutorial?
- Might be a bit intimidating for less hardcore fans
- No museum features
We'll take any Cave shoot 'em up ports that we can get and while Akai Katana isn't the very best game in their catalogue it's still a fun, vibrant and playable now as it was thirteen years ago. It's just a shame that this package wasn't fleshed out with more features, especially a tutorial.

About Richie

Rich is the editor of PlayStation Country. He likes his games lemony and low-budget with a lot of charm. This isn't his photo. That'll be Rik Mayall.

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