Release Date: February 6, 2020
Reviewed On: PC
Publisher: The Arcade Crew, Gamera Games (China)
As a massive fan of Metroidvania games, I pretty much know what to expect from the genre, but every once in a while, a game comes along that takes me by complete surprise. I’m happy to say that Kunai by developer TurtleBlaze and publishers The Arcade Crew and Gamera Games is one of those experiences.
Kunai takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where artificial intelligence’s sentience reigns supreme. The human race is nearly extinct after the massive robotic takeover lead by the dreaded Lemonkus. Some A.I. seeks to make sure these killer robots don’t succeed and fight back as the resistance. You take control of Tabby, a sentient A.I. in the opposition with a tablet for a head, wielding a powerful katana.
After a quick introduction, you are thrown into this tunneling world, slashing away at enemy robots with your sword. Almost immediately, you acquire the namesake of the game, the Kunai, which can be used to grapple, swing, and hang from ledges. This item feels and plays like a dream. I can’t think of another side-scroller that feels as natural and fun as this grappling system. It only took seconds to get the hang of it, and in no time, you can pull off seemingly impressive feats.
A considerable part of this seems to be in the physics of the Kunai. I was almost always able to achieve what I wanted to with the item making not only combat but exploration a gratifying and immensely entertaining experience. The shoulder triggers are used for the left and right grappling accordingly and respond at a rapid-fire pace, making gameplay fast and a genuine joy to navigate.
If this were all the items you were given, I feel this would still be an entertaining experience. However, there are even more weapons and abilities you obtain over time. Similar to other Metroidvanias, each item helps you progress through specific obstacles in the world. Ninja stars stun enemies, unlock control panels to open doors, and, when charged, send a bolt of lighting to various enemies. Guns allow fast broader range attacks but are slightly weaker than other weapons.
When shot down, they allow Tabby to hover in the air for a bit. The Rocket launcher blasts in a wide radius for massive damage but requires a bit more reload time. It can open loose bouldered areas and, when charged, will send multiple rockets to locked on targets. New defensive abilities like the dash, which gives you a split second of invulnerability, makes gameplay even more fast-paced. Harder enemies require various strategies and will have you switching your weapons to meet the challenge.
This, along with environmental conditions, encourages players to avoid settling on one weapon, creating a more dynamic experience. Boss battles require just as much strategy and later can take some trial and error to beat but are not unreasonably burdensome. I do think it would have benefited from a couple more bosses, but I did enjoy the ones offered.
When defeating enemies, they will drop energy to refill your life meter and coins. Damage can, at times, be devastating, so the constant energy drops are a must to stay alive. With coins, you can purchase new upgrades for yourself at the Tabb store. The store is accessed through the in-game wifi, which is found by several routers scattered through the map.
Other items can be found in treasure chests. Quarter heart pieces are rare items that, when forming a complete heart, will extend your life meter. Other items are H.A.T.S, which are purely cosmetic and change Tabby’s headwear. Each section of the map indicates how many treasure chests are left to be discovered, encouraging more exploration.
There are also various members of the resistance that you can talk to and can be identified by their blue color. They will give you clues about where to progress next as well as provide some humor and a bit of world-building. While most are not super crucial, they were still fun to interact with.
Kunai is presented in a cartoony pixel art style. Characters have pretty cute designs and contrast nicely for a post-apocalyptic world. Tabby’s expressions change depending on your action, and it’s pretty endearing. Colors are limited and typically pastel or muted. Each section has subtle color variations but feels pretty consistent. It’s an interesting art direction and sort of fits the mood of a post-apocalyptic world, but sometimes I wish there was a bit more distinction.
That said, it definitely gives the game a more unique feel. Cutscenes are presented after major events in the story, which are fun and sometimes pretty quirky. The soundtrack is a nice blend of synths and ambiance, reminding me of David Wise’s work. At times music can feel somewhat calming but hint to slight tension and unease, which makes a nice pairing with the frantic gameplay.
While Metroidvanias typically require a lot of backtracking in, Kunai didn’t offer that experience. You have the option of doing so for the majority of areas, but for the most part, you are consistently going to new areas with only minor backtracking. This may be why there is no fast travel offered.
I can see where this also encourages you to use your Kunai and other items more, and thankfully it is continuously entertaining to do so. Still, even though there isn’t a lot of backtracking, a warp of some kind would have been a nice addition for the rare occasion you do need to retrace your steps. The only other issue I really have with is that the ending seems a bit lackluster. But none of these minor grips took away that much from my experience.
Kunai is a thoroughly fantastic game, taking some of the best elements of the genre and putting them into one parkouring package. It’s apparent that a lot of care went into fine-tuning weapons and Kunai to make your actions feel as instinctual as they are fun. Kunai is one of the most unexpected and delightful gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. Noisy Pixel gives Kunai a 9 out of 10
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