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Akane Review: Death by a Thousand Cuts (PS5)

Akane is a top-down arcade slasher with a retro sci-fi feel and tight, snappy controls. Whereas the game does have a lot of style, it ends up feeling a little washed out when you have to end up playing the one level over and over on an endless loop.

Akane Review: Death by a Thousand Cuts

2018’s Akane is the kind of arena slasher that wouldn’t look out of place in an early 90’s video game arcade. The game has a couple of clear and appealing draws: the neon pixel art, the eclectic cyberpunk style and the crisp, flowing gameplay. It attempts some pretty great things, but ultimately there are many areas where the team at Ludic Studios simply haven’t put enough polish on it to make this into an indie great. Here is KeenGamer’s Akane review.

Akane is available on Steam, MacOS, Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and Xbox X|S for $4.99.

Story – A Dull Blade

It’s better not to think of Akane as having a story, but rather a premise. You’re an unfeasibly attractive swordswoman who has accepted the fate of her impending death. She crashes her motorbike into a futuristic, neon-soaked Tokyo square as a horde of tetchy Yakuza members come pouring out of the surrounding buildings. It’s up to her to fend off as many as she can before succumbing to waves of gangsters and… cyber-ninjas.

We never really get to see where anything goes and little effort is made to flesh out the characters or plot. But hey, that’s ok. It can sometimes be an effective storytelling technique to leave things up to the imagination. Not every game has to adopt a three-act structure. That being said, even in games that leverage the player’s imagination one would at least hope for them to make some effort with the dialogue. It’s really not the case here. The lines are as basic and cheesy as you can get without the game seeming like a parody of itself.

No, it's not Kill Bill.

No, it’s not Kill Bill.

Even though the story is really light, you can still find fragments of exposition here and there. In the tutorial we find out that she used to frequent a dojo where she had had to learn a very challenging sword skill from her cookie-cutter Kenjutsu sensei. We eventually meet the boss of the game, who pops up every 100 levels or so. He seems to respect her skills, but ultimate just tells her she ticked someone off and is going to die. When it comes down to it, the story-telling is neither the point of the game, or its strong suit.

Gameplay – Akane and the Dance of Death

Controls of Akane

The gameplay is a huge part of why you might want to buy this. There can be no denying that the people who coded the game knew what it would take to make things flow. The controls are just forgiving enough to be fair and the challenges are just difficult enough to make it fun to try. The titular Akane glides across the screen with ease and each katana strike feels appropriately weighty and fair. Enemies fall when they should and you seldom feel cheated by the system. You can switch to a gun that gives your stamina a breather and lets you keep your combo counter up. These things are so important when the game is based around a one-hit kill system. It comes together to create a really satisfying and effective connection between your inputs and what happens on-screen.

No, it's not Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

No, it’s not Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance.

Structure of Akane

The structure of the game is as simple as it needs to be. You start with a couple of baddies on-screen, and before you know it you’re surrounded. Every hundred levels the boss shows up and you kill him to continue racking up your score. Because you simply re-run the level each time you die, you’re always right in the heat of the action. This, coupled with the fact that there is only one level and only one boss, makes the game a little mind-numbing during longer sessions. It is however great to take turns and tag out if you can get a friend to join in. The boss’ level changes each time you kill him, but even if you spill his guts across the floor he always comes back as if nothing has happened.

The game motivates you to keep playing for two reasons. One, you want to get the highest score possible. Two, there are unlocks you can get by performing challenges. There aren’t a huge number of things to unlock in Akane, but they do bring variety to the experience. There are sprint boots that fire you across the arena and a shotgun you can equip to get more than one kill with each shot.

Graphics & Sound – Rag-tag Team

Graphics

An Akane review would be complete without a look at the art style. The pixel graphics do their job pretty beautifully, and that is where you will spend most of your time in this game. The neon glows nicely, the gore pops well against the concrete and all of the moves look pretty cool. It’s retro, but done really well. When you look at the other artwork in Akane though, the style in inconsistent. It’s like a few different artists were given a shot at doing different parts of the game and never really coordinated. You end up with some illustrations that are significantly better than others, which creates a jarring feeling. 

No, it’s not Cyberpunk 2077.

Akane – Sound

The sound is also a bit of a mix-up, but it hits the mark much better than the graphics. It has a really interesting track list that goes in directions you won’t expect and never breaks from the theme. Some songs feel more synthwave, others have dubstep influences and you even get some tech-house vibes. It’s a real treat. The sound effects are also mercifully transparent, with the exception of the Wilhelm scream, which plays every once and a while when you chop a gangster up.

Akane was reviewed on PS5. Game key by VIM Global.

Summary
Akane has potential to be an indie great, but it feels as though it needs much tighter art direction, a lot of polish and a break from the monotony of the gameplay loop. The pixel art is great and the control are very convincing, but it can't escape the feeling that a little more was required to make it feel like a finished product. The fact that it has only one level and (even more bafflingly) only one boss puts a real limit on what the game is capable of becoming. The premise is pretty awesome, but awesome in a way that a 16 year old would enjoy it most.
Good
  • Tight, Satisfying Controls
  • Great Pixel Art
Bad
  • Repetitive
  • Serious Lack of Polish
6.5
Fair
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