Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Official Site: Kunaigame.com
Release Date: February 6, 2020
Version Tested: Switch
In a world where more and more games are made to be as complicated as possible, it’s nice to settle down with a “simple” Metroidvania every now and then. Of course, what makes a really good Metroidvania is the realization that the game isn’t that simple after all. This is undoubtedly the case with the newest game of this genre to hit the Switch and Steam on the PC. Kunai appears to be a straightforward game on its face, but there’s enough there to keep gamers coming back over and over again.
In the game, which has some serious Meatboy vibes every now and then, you play a sentient tablet that manages to find a way to get legs and ambulate around a post-apocalyptic world where machines have taken over. Because you are a machine and are fighting other machines, this doesn’t have the same kind of blood splatter you’ll find in Meatboy, but the graphics certainly look like a callback.
In fact, the art style is similar enough that you’d be forgiven if the same developers had worked on both games. You’d be wrong if you thought that, but you’d still be forgiven. Kunai is actually the first foray into either console or PC gaming for TurtleBlaze. Their only other projects was a racing game for the iPhone and iPad known as Road Warriors.
Despite the lack of experience in this genre, they’ve managed to make a game that hints at those that came before it, while also treading its own path. What really sets the game apart from others is that while you can certainly run and jump through the world if that’s what you want, there also comes a time when you’re going to need to swing through the air with the greatest of ease.
Instead of using a trapeze, you will use a pair of Kunai (hence the name of the game.) Utilized almost as a couple of grappling hooks, the lead character will fire these into walls and ceilings, once out of each hand, in order to stay above the fray by swinging over obstacles. You can also climb sheer walls by timing how and when you shoot the hooks.
Kunai‘s Ninja Skills Take Time to Master
The grappling weapon isn’t the only tool you’ll need in order to succeed in the game. In fact, it’s not even the one you start off with.
When the main character is first woken up, you’ve got nothing to your name. Soon you’ll be able to get your “hands” on a sword and start really showing the bad guys what you can do.
Jumping and dodging play a big part in the game as well, and when you do indeed get the Kunai, you really will feel like a robotic ninja destined to save what’s left of the world from the evil A.I Lemonkus.
The fact that you progress through the story, and progress your character as well, makes it that much more attractive to keep coming back and playing it more. While it doesn’t force you to start over every time you die like Dead Cells, the game still reminded me a bit of that, as I wanted to get through each level, not because I wanted to progress the story, but because I wanted to see what item I was going to be equipped with next.
In the beginning, you aren’t even allowed a map (which can be annoying at times as most of the screens in a given dungeon look very similar), but when you do get to outfit your character with it, traversing the entire Kunai world becomes that much more entertaining.
Haven’t We Been Here Before?
If there is one big drawback with Kunai, it’s that the levels and dungeons do all start to look alike rather quickly. To some degree, that’s the intention, as everything is supposed to have a kind of anti-septic look you might see from a world run by robots. And robots that are under the boot heel of an evil A.I. to boot.
However, going from one screen to another doesn’t allow you to see even subtle differences at certain times. This makes it hard to get your bearings on some levels, and that repetitiveness does pose a minor strike against replayability.
The world isn’t that pretty either, though the art style is pleasant enough that you’re never going to get tired of looking at Kunai. The little puzzles that are built into every level, like what kind of walls and ceilings you can actually grapple to and swing from mean you’ll be concentrating on taking out enemies, or escaping their wrath enough that the similarities in the dungeons don’t bug enough to hold the game back.
Verdict: Kunai is one of those games that manages to take what it’s doing seriously while not taking itself too seriously at the same time. There are some decent and subtle jokes mixed into the story, and I found myself really feeling bad for some of the downtrodden robots I met along the way. This game looks and feels very familiar, but also has enough in its mechanics that it stands out from the pack. This is an incredibly strong entry on the Nintendo Switch, especially when you realize it is, for all intents and purposes, the first full-sized game TurtleBlaze has made.