Katana Jack Review

Don’t you hate it when something’s bugging you and keeping you from getting a good night’s rest? I hear they make pills for that, but Katana Jack (Out Now, Free) prefers to cut down the problem at its root. The lanterns shining into his room are going to be sorry they crossed this samurai fox!

The influence of Tecmo’s classic arcade game Bomb Jack is heavily felt here, but thankfully it’s a formula well worth reviving. Whereas Bomb Jack had to defuse bombs in the order in which their fuses lit up, Katana Jack has to chop up oriental lanterns in the order they flicker on. Fail to hit them in proper succession and it will reduce the player’s level rating; on the other hand, a minimum performance requirement is necessary to proceed. Jack gets a helpful boost from a jetpack(!) by default, so no lantern is ever out of reach.

Making the cut might seem easy during Katana Jack’s live tutorial, but it turns out that the sleepless canine hero is a total wimp in the face of enemies. Sure, he’ll slice and dice lanterns automatically, but if he so much as brushes shoulders with a roving mummy he’ll lose a life. Flying enemies that home in on him like heat-seeking missiles make for an especially rough time. This is another reason why it’s important to chain those lanterns correctly: building a good sequence string makes a hunk of sushi appear and begin bouncing around the level, and if Jack catches it, all his enemies transform into yummy shrimp he can gulp down. Otherwise the player has to stun enemies by bopping Jack’s head against the underside of the platforms they’re walking on, Mario Bros. style. Combined with mazelike level design and a strict countdown timer, this makes for surprisingly tough and strategic gameplay.

For extra challenge the player can swap out Jack’s jetpack for “Classic” controls, which force the player to hammer mercilessly on the jump button to make Jack float up after he’s finished an initial jump. Rest assured it’s just as difficult to make happen as I describe it, but at least the initial jump lasts as long as the player holds on the jump button, so all the lanterns can still be reached while using “Classic” controls. Otherwise the interface works well, consisting of an arcade-style virtual joystick that allows only left and right input, and an invisible jump button at the bottom-right of the touchscreen. It’s too bad the UI design squeezes the actual gameplay area aside, and I would love to see an option for the game to remember the player’s UI preference so it doesn’t continually ask before starting each level.

In addition to a meaty 45-level campaign, Katana Jack has an Arcade mode where only the “Classic” interface is available. The game is currently supported by ads on the menus, but thankfully these are absent during the levels. If Katana Jack could be said to have any weaknesses, it’s only that the game’s simplicity is a double-edged sword: it’s a fantastic one to pick up and play in short spurts, but a sense of déjà vu will settle in if you play Katana Jack for long stretches at a time.

Xoan Baltar proves himself a man of many talents, handling both the game’s art and music in fine form! It’s a shame so much detail in the game’s sprites is lost to the eye because they’re so shrunken down, and that Xoan’s digital brushstrokes remain blurred in the background most of the time, but it’s apparent that plenty of work went into Jack’s expansive collection of hilarious victory jigs. Katana Jack has an interestingly bipolar soundtrack; traditional Japanese music lends gameplay a serene atmosphere most of the time, but this gives way to the frantic bleeps and bloops of ancient arcade titles whenever a piece of sushi appears. In a nice touch, progress rewards the player with videos showing the step-by-step creation of the game’s artwork.

iFanzine Verdict: Katana Jack perfectly captures the feel of ye olde single-screen arcade platformers, its simplicity lending it well to short gameplay spurts on-the-go. If you’re seeking lots of special moves or evolving gameplay mechanics you won’t find them here, but this is a wonderful title to sink your teeth into if you’re a fan of simple action and action puzzle games.