Akai Katana

Akai Katana is a side-scrolling Shmup set in an alternate history Japan that sees you piloting your aircraft through Taisho era Japan in a constant easterly direction. Each of the five stages follow the same formula: you take down lots of smaller enemies before meeting the mid-boss, take that airship down then continue against hoards of enemies before taking on the end boss.  All the while you will be weaving through ever-increasingly complex curtains of bullets to stay alive and destroy all in your path. However, if you are chasing scores, and chances are if you’re playing a Cave shmup that’s exactly what you will be doing, you will be thinking about how best to increase your score.

Cave are fantastic at creating multi-purpose levels and your appreciation of the game depends on how you choose to negotiate them. In Akai Katana Slash (the best mode) you have two main ways of firing: Attack and Defence. Defence Mode is used to generate Steel which is then converted to an attack used in Phantom mode. Once used the Steel icons fly out across the screen generating Katanas upon contact with an enemy or enemy bullet. These Katanas are then poised in orbit around the Phantom to be deployed as a spread attack across the screen or a concentrated attack on a Boss. The more enemies and bullets you hit with the Steel and then Katana attack the more points you make.  The key here is to use your steel attack wisely for maximum Katanas then use your Katana attack at just the right time to take down as many enemies and bullets as possible.  This is where the big scores are and choosing when to accrue, when to attack, when to switch into Phantom Mode, when to use your Steel Reserves and finally, when to use your Katana special move makes the difference between being at the bottom or top of your friends list leaderboard. You can replay each level countless times to familiarise yourself with it, to pick your time well and learn your routine then do it without losing a life and, if you get in to the swing of it, this can keep you going for hours and hours, constantly aiming to beat your old score and better your technique.

The whole point of Akai Katana is to rack up high scores and each of the three ships vary enough so as to allow you to change your play style with each one or, most likely, find the ship that works best for you and stick to it. For example, one ship has a Special Move where you fire the Steel you collected in a diagonal direction whereas the Sakura ship fires them directly forward.  This will change your approach to each boss: either you manoeuvre to the bottom of the screen and fire up or you slowly work your way to the middle to maximise your hits.  It may sound like a small difference but it makes a big impact on how you set up your attack and when you release it.  You will need to obtain an intimate knowledge of each level ‒ when which enemies appear and when the boss will summon their massive battleship.  People looking for a more story-based shmup with long levels and puzzle- like areas/bosses like Ikaruga will no doubt be initially shocked by the format and relatively short campaign but each stage is so expertly crafted it can be played in many different ways.

There are three different Modes: Slash, Origin and Climax. Slash is totally the best as it avoids the 4:3 aspect ratio and slightly blurred “Arcade Perfect,” Origin and is more leisurely than Climax by comparison. Origin is a nice inclusion for curious fans and Climax is great for the fans who have gone beyond mere mortal skill levels. Slash and Climax, it must be said, look utterly gorgeous. The character renderings are outstandingly lush and vibrant while avoiding the plastic look of so much digital art and the backgrounds are beautifully restrained takes on rural Japanese traditional townscapes. It’s a really beautiful game where fleeting sakura and boundless bullets create a stunning contrast and the music blends them both while simultaneously sounding new and old, which kind of mirrors this old school genre being brought up to date in HD 16:9.







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