Kunai’s premise is well known. Humanity has reached the pinnacle of technological advancement and its demise, inviting an army of AI-controlled robots to wipe out almost all life on Earth. A small resistance from surviving people and conflict-averse droids begin to fight back, but without a miracle, that battle is nearly lost. Tabby, a cheerful emotional tablet in ninja clothing, is that miracle. This is our Kunai Review.
Kunai Review: About
- Platform: Nintendo Switch, Microsoft Windows
- Developer: TurtleBlaze
- Publisher: The Arcade Crew, Gamera Games (China), DotEmu
- Genres: Metroidvania
- Release Date: February 6, 2020
Kunai Review: Official Trailer Video
Kunai Review: Gameplay
Kunai is both bizarre and endearing, starting with a strange main character. Tabby – a handy tablet in a world dominated by robots with CRT-like heads and barely any traces of humanity – is looking to put out an AI rebellion and prevent the extinction of humanity. Kunai’s world is fragmented into varied areas, allowing you to explore multiple trails during opening hours, as your growing toolset opens up new avenues to explore as you progress.
You start with just a sword, and you can use it to cut through the metal exterior of robotic enemies quickly and stylishly protect yourself from projectiles with a wave of swings. You also have a generous jump that allows you to attack from above and bounce continuously between enemies after each swipe. Getting into a rhythm of bouncing off one enemy and immediately on the next without missing an attack in between is both easy to understand and satisfying to pay off.
Kunai’s fighting scenarios also generally only include a handful of enemies at a time, giving you plenty of room to feel like a kickass ninja consistently. The kunai, a pair of grappling hooks that are fitted in each hand and allow you to swing through environments easily, adds early agility in the air. By increasing the standard movement with the air freedom of your kunai, you get a fight with a captivating sense of flow. It is effortless to link swings together to maintain airtime while bouncing between enemies to attack.
A variety of screen-to-screen layouts challenge you to use your tools creatively. More open areas let you hang out freely, but don’t offer many points for hooking up your kunai. Tight paths limit your maneuverability from the air, encourage you to deflect more projectiles, and choose your attacks wisely. Each area throws in unique elements that complement this – the dense forest has vines you can use to climb on, while mines have fragile walls that crumble when you swing off them – keeping platforming and combat entertaining everywhere.
You are free to explore the multiple areas of Kunai’s big map as far as your equipment takes you. Every new item you come across is both a weapon and a tool to navigate the world in new ways. For example, your dual machine guns act as both a powerful medium-range attack and a creative means of hovering over large holes, as you can use downward fire to sustain your jump as long as you have bullets to fire. Using each new item is also easy to understand from the beginning, thinking of closed doors or obstructed paths that can now be cleared with your unique skills, making it easy to decide where to go next.
Each new item expands your limited moveset in exciting ways, but navigating to any specific part of the map where they can be useful quickly becomes taxing. Individual segments in Kunai’s areas provide enough variation in their construction to encourage different combat strategies. Still, they don’t merge in a way that makes navigating the same spaces interesting on return visits.
In some cases, the end of a critical path and achieving its particular purpose is nullified by the realization that you have to navigate back to where you started, sometimes without something new in your arsenal to shake up the return journey. It is disappointing to brush through an area with a fine comb to be contacted and diverted only by radio without any real storyline, especially when there are no quick travel systems to ease the deterioration.
This is exacerbated in some later stages, where it may be unclear where your next target is, with all possible paths requiring a tool you don’t have yet. The aimless wandering is especially tiring because browsing the world of Kunai isn’t incredibly rewarding either, even with optional chests hidden in each area to discover. Some include cosmetic hats for some visual variety, while others contain valuable in-game currency for upgrades, but it’s the few that contain parts of a health upgrade that are worth seeking out.
The problem is that most chests are at the end of corridors that are entirely hidden from view, only revealing when you accidentally get close to their entrance and blur the textures they cover-up. It’s a disappointingly easy way to protect them, making your discoveries feel happier than well-distracted. While navigating through each area multiple times isn’t as fun as it should be, the beautiful visual shifts in between are a delight. Kunai’s limited color palette is used to accentuate the varied areas with subtlety.
Each of the areas has different muted colors for their background, such as the flat grays and faint blue of the opening factory and the bright green of the AI-affected forests. The variation makes switching between each area not only definite but also visually delightful. While most colors are muted, bright reds are especially prominent. Not only does it help to distinguish enemies and critical points from the background, but it also permeates every blow of your sword and subsequent connection attack with a powerful punch that bathes the screen in sharp, contrasting red tones.
However, this sense of style doesn’t transfer to Kunai’s limited story. It sets up the first premise and gives you insight into what you’re fighting for, but doesn’t leave much to discover your world. The only way to learn more about Kunai’s world is through limited but surprisingly entertaining interactions with other resistance robots. Usually referred to by their thick CRT monitor heads and calming blue shades, these side characters add some lightness to the setting by exposing disastrous events with silly puns and small, amusing anecdotes.
Disappointingly, there’s no more to dig when it comes to Kunai’s set dressing, especially when paired with such striking visual style and engaging combat. Kunai’s level design forces you to adapt while getting the room to take out a group of enemies with a series of precise grappling hook swings, precise double jumps, and intelligently integrated swings of your sword. Kunai review loses much of its momentum far too often, but when it strikes a balance between its compelling combat and satisfying platforming action, it’s hard to put down.
Kunai loses much of its momentum far too often, but when it strikes a balance between its compelling combat and satisfying platforming action, it’s hard to put down.