There’s nothing quite like an evil AI wiping out most of the world, is there? It’s something we’ve seen in movies and games in the past, and it also makes up the plot in Kunai: the new Metroidvania-style title from the team at TurtleBlaze that has just made its way to the Nintendo Switch and PC.
Kunai does something a little different with the whole rogue AI thing though. See, you’re not actually taking on the role of a human, but are instead part of a robot uprising looking to take down the evil AI known as Lemonkus. And you’re not a conventional robot either… you play as a tablet. It’s quirky, sure, but it’s also very charming and helps establish the game’s fun and silly vibe early on.
Metroidvania-style adventures are a dime a dozen these days and Kunai sticks to the established formula with its large maze-like world that’s segmented into different environments, each of which require you to unlock certain abilities and equipment in order to progress through. There are hidden rooms to find across each area that offer different goodies, a varied selection of enemies to take down, and some enjoyable platforming challenges that’ll put your precision and reaction skills to the test too.
It sounds just like any other Metroidvania-style game then really, but Kunai has a unique and fun gimmick: the titular kunai, which allow you to swing across levels in a Spider-Man like style. Alternating between the shoulder buttons allows you to swing across the environment with ease, whether it’s when making your way across the ceiling of a large room or even up a vertical corridor. They feel incredibly satisfying to use and just make traversal in Kunai all the more enjoyable, especially when tied in with the sound combat mechanics.
Kunai’s combat is on-point throughout and it feels great to string together Tabby’s different abilities whilst traversing the well-designed levels with your kunai. Tabby is able to attack from all different angles with his blade, whilst your ranged attacks allow you to pick off foes with ease too. Your abilities genuinely feel like they pack a punch given that they’ll knock your enemies back (it feels satisfying in-game), whilst you’re also able to unlock upgrades that can make them even more effective when it comes to slaying your foes.
When using your kunai and stringing together attacks in quick succession, combat just feels special. It’s like you’re playing Spider-Man, except you’re a ninja and part of a 2D Metroidvania-style experience – come on, that sounds great, right? Your kunai and weapons can also be used in puzzle-solving, whilst being clever with your weapons is imperative to actually traversing the environment. Blasting your machine guns downwards in order to give yourself the momentum to glide might not seem like a conventional idea, but in Kunai it’s essential to progress… I loved it.
Whilst the combat mechanics are slick though, the boss encounters of Kunai are a bit of a mixed bag. There are some clever encounters that utilise your varied skillset, but for the most part they’re all a bit simple in design and too easy to take out. I didn’t actually die during a single boss encounter either, and believe me, I’m hardly a pro when it comes to the action-platforming genre.
That was until I reached the last boss, who absolutely wiped the floor with me on multiple occasions. It’s been a long while since I’ve come across such a harsh difficulty spike, but Kunai’s transition from being a fairly unchallenging experience to pitting you against a last boss that demands absolute precision in almost everything you do was nasty. The game doesn’t prepare you for such a difficult encounter, and whilst it’s certainly possible to persevere through, you can expect to feel a fair bit of frustration during the harsh showdown.
As mentioned, there are plenty of secret areas to uncover across Kunai, and it is in these that you’ll typically come across one of the collectible hats in the game. It turns out that Tabby is a bit of a hat connoisseur, with a wide selection of wacky headwear available to give yourself a stylish look as you progress on your adventure.
These are a fun little collectible to come across, but they only give you an aesthetic change in-game. In fact, for the most part you’ll only find health upgrades or the in-game currency in the secret chests, so there’s never anything too exciting to collect from a gameplay perspective. Whilst it is certainly endearing to give Tabby a swish new look, I do wish that the developer tied some form of gameplay change to the hats, if only to give players a real incentive to hunt them down and pursue that 100% completion in-game.
Still… who wouldn’t want to play the game with a plunger on their head?
I’ve got to give a shout out to Kunai’s visuals, which are so simplistic in design yet startlingly stylish throughout. It’s got an 8-bit aesthetic going on with a limited colour palette, but it’s cleverly implemented and looks so neat in-game that it’s hard not to find yourself totally in awe of the world around you.
Kunai is stylish and fun, with the neat swinging-abilities of the hero and the slick combat mechanics coming together to make for a very enjoyable Metroidvania-style experience. The only downside came with the difficulty imbalance, with the game proving to be a bit too easy… until you reach the final boss who is as TOUGH as nails.
That difficulty spike wasn’t enough of a problem to stop me enjoying the game though and Kunai certainly stands out as another neat action-platformer that fans of the Metroidvania genre (and hats) will want to check out.
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Review), PC