This weekend marks the release of another of Cave’s bastard-hard shooters, Akai Katana. It follows Deathsmiles Deluxe and DoDonPachi Resurrection in being 360-exclusive, and, well… bastard-hard.

I’ve only played it through twice so far, so won’t be reviewing the game in full (at least not yet), but that won’t stop me from giving some impressions. Straight off the bat, this game is absolutely beautiful. The artwork is typically Cave, but somehow seems bigger. When you see huge mid-boss sprites burst out of the sea into the air, turning to engage you, you can see the care, attention and raw talent that Cave’s artists have in abundance. When end-stage bosses summon screen-filling trains to use as shields against your attacks, you’ll be too busy grinning like a madman to get frustrated.

I’ve only tried the one mode out so far – Akai Katana Slash, which is a 360-tailored mode, with almost-full 16:9 support (there’s maybe an inch of border around the whole screen). For the most part, gameplay is typical bullet hell – you weave around insane mazes of enemy fire, slowing down while you return fire. But Akai Katana has a lot of added depth up its sleeves: attacking enemies in defensive mode will earn you different items, and hitting the X button switches you to your ‘Phantom’ support character, which can take more damage, withstand lasers and launch collected items back at the enemy.

There’s a lot to take in, most of which can thankfully be ignored while you’re learning the ropes, promising you greater gameplay opportunities for when you can appreciate all that added depth. This is a game with replay value in abundance, and that’s without even mentioning the other two modes – Origin, which is a straight port of the 2010 arcade original, and Climax – a mode where only experts will survive.

Besides the game itself, one thing that did surprise me about the overall physical package is that there are no extras this time. Deathsmiles had a soundtrack and an extra disc with PC utilities and wallpapers, while DoDonPachi arrived with a soundtrack disc. With Akai Katana, you get the game disc, you get a multi-lingual manual… and that’s it. Considering that that’s all you get with most £40 titles, and that Akai Katana can be had for under £25, it’s not an issue at all. Also, if you happened to pre-order with ShopTo, you will have received a t-shirt with an image of Botan, one of the game’s pilots, on the front. Admittedly, it’s a nice extra (as you can see below), but as it’s a pre-order bonus limited to one retailer it’s not something everyone buying the game will get.

Anyone remotely interested in the bullet hell genre would do well to pick this up. Akai Katana is a beautifully presented, low-price, generously-proportioned package that you’ll be playing with for months, if not years, to come. Ooh-err, missus.

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