Devolver Digital has brought some pretty diverse games to the party at PAX every year. We arrived at their booth and immediately noticed the scale of what Devolver had going on in 2019. There were game demos all over the front of the main booth packed with players, as well as a whole other side of the booth just to the side. On one was a daunting display for Enter The Gungeon, and its new DLC update, and just on the other side, with a massive, ambient colorful display for a new game: Katana Zero, the demo for which we’ll detail shortly. In the main area of the booth we saw a giant bright screen on the back wall of the booth, a big black leather couch, and a crowd of people cheering while four people played another new game.
The game we were demoing was Heave Ho, an addictively entertaining multiplayer game that can be best described as the ultimate party game. The masterminds of this game were French developers Le Cartel (The Cartel Studio) who are known best for their insanely violent brawler Mother Russia Bleeds back in 2016. With Devolver as their publisher, the talented minds at Le Cartel made a universally enjoyable and challenging game.
My fellow TYF team member, Grant, and I were sat down on the couch next to two members of the crowd, where we were given the general overview of the game and the almost stupidly simple controls. The character you play as is basically a head with two long arms and big hands. We each had to pick our own character design from a very diverse and fun list of possibilities. From what I can remember there were characters like Snake from “Metal Gear”, Luke Skywalker, Santa Claus and Frankenstein to name a few. We were told that the character list was full of very random icons from numerous forms of entertainment, but that these were not all promised for the game’s actual release. I’d imagine licensing them all would be absolute hell.
The idea of the game sounds simple: use the left and right analog sticks to maneuver the arms, use the left and right bumpers to control the grip of the hands, and the goal is to move as a team from one side of the screen to the goal area. Moving individually is pretty easy to get the hang of and you begin to almost feel a bit like Spider-Man sticking to the surface. The challenge comes in when you have to grip onto your three fellow players and move as a single unit. This game requires conversation between all four players and a singular goal that all of you follow together. Truly a return to form for couch co-op.
The amazing part about playing this game was how it immediately made all four of us on the couch connect and work together as a team. We would all grip to each other’s hands and make a line, and while one person grips the ledge, the other end of the line swings and reaches for the next ledge. Each of us would yell out if we were attached to the surface or not and when to let go, putting your fate in your friend’s hands. It’s a fast-paced, tense, and exhaustingly fun game that I can’t wait to be available for everyone to play.
Heave Ho will be available this Summer and will launch on PC and Nintendo Switch.
– Tyler Carlsen
Like most people, my first experience with a Devolver published game was in Hotline Miami. That game required you to utilize your camera to look ahead to different rooms and chart the enemy positions in order to anticipate where they would be attacking from. The reason for this is because your character dies from one hit. Katana Zero is quite a different game, but that key mechanic, one hit deaths, is fully embraced in new ways.
Your character is a samurai assassin for hire that employs a therapist. In between missions, the therapist acts as a catalyst for the story. You’ll also visit your run down apartment where occasionally you will interact with your neighbours. The one I discovered in the demo was a small child. Dialogue options appear in these conversations giving you the option to engage with full sentences or to cut everyone down with silence, curt comebacks, or quick ‘shut ups’ depending on your investment in the narrative. The full effect of the relationship the assassin shares with these people in her life is not fully explored in the demo, but I am intrigued by the narratives potential. The dynamic between therapist and weathered assassin is one I would like to explore and test the limits with. I have no clue whether the depth of storytelling I’m hoping for will be delivered upon, but the small sample I got to see gives me no reason to doubt developer askiisoft.
Combat is incredibly intuitive and fluid. You have the ability to dash, jump, and slash in sequence allowing you to close distance between enemies quickly. However, your enemies can act just as quickly, and remember, they can kill you with one hit. There is a special mechanic designed to accommodate this vulnerability however: the game allows you to manipulate time. Your assassin has the ability of foresight allowing you to see briefly into the future in order to set your plan of attack precisely so that you can ensure you are successful. If you die, you can rewind and reset your foresight to try again and attempt a new strategy. Unlike Hotline Miami, you don’t get to use your camera to see into other rooms. A large part of that is the difference in viewpoint, Katana Zero is a side scrolling platformer and Hotline Miami’s point of view was top down, but here, when you clear one part of a mission room, the game will show you where your next enemies are coming from. Also, as I made my way through the demo, the enemy types gradually increased in difficulty. The first set attacked with their fists, the second could wield melee weapons, and the third set could wield guns and wore armor, which requires two hits to kill them. By the end of the demo, these three sets were interspersed through the level to create unique challenges. These enemy types are matched with unique environmental threats such as lasers that you can dash through if you time it right, or turrets with spotlights.
The demo was relatively short at around twenty minutes so I’m not entirely sure how the difficulty spike will be increased in the full game, but I have the feeling that there are more challenges yet to be revealed. As an example, I did not see the presence of a boss, but I expect that some form of boss encounters will be in the game. I have nothing to confirm that, but that is my hunch and if that is the case, it only makes this game more impressive, because as it stands I am buying this day one (Which happens to be pretty soon)
Katana Zero will be available April 18th for Nintendo Switch and PC.
– Grant Jonsson