Akane – Nintendo Switch
Developed By: Ludic Studios
Published By: QubicGames
Category: Top-down arcade slasher
Release Date: May 17, 2019
A Traditional mechanic to balance for game developers has always been game difficulty. During the height of the arcade game scene in the early eighties, games were developed to be difficult enough so that players wouldn’t reach the end of the game, but captivating enough to keep players coming back with more coins to try and progress further. Games such as Space Invaders, Pacman and Nintendo’s Donkey Kong were tough, and this was the norm in gaming until well into 1990s, when more and more games dialed back the difficulty or introduced a choice of difficulty settings.
Now, many game developers are creating games with punishing difficulty as a badge of honour. Games such as From Software’s Dark Souls or Koei Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden are not only known for being great games, but also for being very tough. The popularity of both showed there were players out there looking for challenging game experiences.
Step forward Akane, a top down arcade arena slasher originally released at the end of 2018 on Steam, from Brazil’s Ludic Studios and Polish publisher QubicGames. Set in a neon-soaked futuristic Tokyo, you play the eponymous Akane as she goes into a battle with the Yakuza, a battle she is not expecting to survive.
When you start the game up you get to see a gorgeous, atmospheric pixel art scene showing Akane in a blood drenched elevator with a number of motionless Yakuza corpses at her feet. Next the screen goes blank and you hear the screeching of tires, then a crash. You now see the title screen and in the background Akane is standing in an arena next to what is left of her motorcycle, which is now a burning pile of rubble, surrounded by Yakuza, with a menacing soundtrack adding to the atmosphere.
It’s in this arena where you start and spend the rest of the game in. However the short tutorial is the best place to start, which interestingly is set over 20 years in the past and let’s you learn how to play Akane as a young Akane.
In Akane, you are armed with a katana sword as your main weapon as well as a gun to take down enemies from further away. Akane has made her peace that this evening is her last, and she will take as many Yakuza down as she can. Enemies continually stream in from all edges of the arena, in waves reminiscent of Smash TV. You can kill the main enemies with one slash of your sword or one bullet from your gun, but conversely you will be killed with one hit. Other enemies such as the Tank and Cyber Ninja take more effort to take down, and after you kill 100 enemies, and every subsequent 100 kills, you meet the boss, a ninja with a mechanical arm. So be prepared to die, a lot. However when you die (and you will), you’ll be given to the chance to view your score before you’re dropped right back to the start instantly to try all over again.
A counter increases with every enemy you kill, and there is a combo meter which fills up as you rack up kills, but resets unless you continue a kill streak of no more than a kill per every couple seconds. As the kills rack up, you build up your adrenaline bar which when at least a third full allows you to unleash an attack which kills all enemies in a line, or when completely full allows you to kill all enemies on screen. Both can be used to clear the screen of enemies, as more and more appear as you survive longer. Performing a dash, where Akane does a sprint burst each time you press L, is helpful to get you out of tricky situations. You can also block and parry enemy attacks, including bullets and sword strikes, with correct timing.
Akane is about surviving as long as you can, and you can complete in-game challenges in the main game to unlock new weapons and gear to help in your playthroughs. Gear such as the type of cigarettes you choose are cosmetic (the colour of the trail that appears behind Akane when she dashes is different depending on the type of cigarettes you choose), but some of the other gear bring performance upgrades. Different swords provide additional abilities and there’s a range of guns that handle in different ways, such as semi-automatics, pistols and shotguns.
Visually, Akane looks great and wears it’s influences on it’s sleeve. Firstly it’s set in Mega Tokyo, which sounds like Judge Dredd’s Mega City One and Akira’s Neo-Tokyo rolled into one. The art style shows its influence from Blade Runner with flickering neon signs surrounding the arena, and the pixel art top down style is akin to Hyper Light Drifter.
Akane has a great soundtrack which helps build the tense atmosphere and goes well with the frenetic pace of the game as you combat wave against wave of Yakuza. The influence of Prodigy and Nero at their best, and even music from classic space shooter Forsaken 64, can be heard in some of the ten tracks from Brazilian music producer Cybass. Sound effects are functional with gory sound effects when you cut down an enemy, though the sound when your katana parries bullets or when it clashes with an enemy sword resonates and heightens the tension.
On Switch the game performs well in docked and handheld mode, with no noticeable performance dips. When you are killed, short load times ensure your waiting time is brief so you can dive right back in to the action straight away. While the game looks and performs well in handheld mode, my hands did hurt after a couple of hours of playtime using the joycons. The controls are generally pretty tight and swinging the sword about is great fun, however shooting your gun is a bit fiddly as you can’t move and shoot.
This is a tight and well crafted game. There is only one arena, you see the same enemies types throughout and you meet the same boss every 100 kills, increasing in difficulty. It could maybe be a bit more forgiving, making it easier for you to progress further into the game. But like all great arcade games, it keeps you coming back each time you die to try and beat your best score and get a little further.
Akane is a great little arcade arena slasher that should pose players a challenge, with an atmospheric cyberpunk world that you unfortunately don’t get to see more of. But for only 5 bucks it’s a lot of fun while it lasts. It could do with more levels and bosses, but let’s hope Ludic Studios are saving those for a sequel.