I’ve always been a fan of sliding puzzles… you know, the type where you can push an object or character around in specific directions until an obstacle blocks their path. I’ve recently played through the likes of Slayaway Camp and Friday the 13th: Killer Puzzle on the Nintendo Switch that utilised these puzzle mechanics in satisfyingly deadly ways, but they were more linear level-based affairs. Keen: One Girl Army, the new release from developer Cat Nigiri, takes the formula and attaches an epic and more open adventure to it, with the end result a rewardingly fun puzzling experience.
Keen: One Girl Army stars Kim, a young girl who lives on a peaceful island with her Grandmother. This peace is soon disturbed when a vicious secret society unleash all sorts of baddies upon the land, meaning Kim has to head out on an adventure to save the day… just what every eight-year old kid needs in their life, right? With a big sword in tow and training from her ‘Gramma’ though, she’s well prepared for the trials and tribulations that lie ahead of her…
Keen: One Girl Army utilises a puzzling formula that we’ve seen in plenty of games in the past, with the player able to move protagonist Kim both horizontally and vertically across a variety of tiled maps. There’s a twist though: she won’t stop moving until an obstacle blocks her path, meaning you’ve got to use everything around you in a clever way in order to shift our hero to the exact place she needs to go. Whilst this type of puzzle typically makes up a one-off section in most games, it’s utilised into a full-blown experience here – however, its implementation is particularly effective thanks to some clever mechanics involving exploration and battling wandering enemies that help tie it into a larger scale adventure.
Enemies move whenever you take a turn, so you’ve always got to be on your toes as to whether or not they may end up attacking you. However, the direction they’re moving is always pretty predictable, so it’s easy enough to exploit if you’re clever about it. Of course, taking them out yourself isn’t too much fuss either, with the player simply having to slide Kim through enemies or position her next to them as a means to deal some damage.
It can mean that enemies are more of a minor hinderance as opposed to a full-blown threat in Keen: One Girl Army, though the fact you have limited health does mean that they can cause you problems if you aren’t too careful. From an action standpoint, the game isn’t too difficult, but the battling twist can cause sees your health dwindling away if you’re not too careful in your approach. Still, there’s no denying that combat adds a neat and fun action-orientated twist to what is otherwise a fairly simple formula, even if enemies are pretty easy to take out.
Whilst Keen: One Girl Army is simple in design and the battling straightforward, it’s no cakewalk as far as the difficulty of the puzzle-solving is concerned. Most levels are structured in a manner that’ll take some real thinking from the player to solve, with puzzles cleverly designed to ensure that each move you make is vital to your success. You’ll often have to hit certain objects in an area to open doorways, find hidden keys, or simply kill all enemies that are in a room to progress – it might sound simple enough, but the sliding-puzzle manner of movement means that reaching some areas of a map can take some careful planning to pull off.
Keen: One Girl Army doesn’t adopt a linear approach either, with some areas offering branching pathways that encourage exploration in order to progress. It’s a neat approach to take with the puzzling setup of the game and feels more akin to a dungeon-crawler in places, albeit with a puzzle-orientated twist. It’ll take some clever thinking and planning to get around though, especially if you want to find all of the collectibles that are scattered about…
That being said, you’ll want to keep track of where you’re going when moving between areas, with little on offer in Keen: One Girl Army to remind you where you’re heading or to mark particular points of interest. There were more than a few occasions where I’d actually forgot where I’d been or where I needed to go in some of the larger areas, which could get a little tiresome at times given that traversal in the game isn’t as simple as going from point A to B.
It should take most gamers around six hours to beat Keen: One Girl Army (well… depending on how often you get completely stumped by a level), which feels like the perfect length for this type of game. It ensures that the simple formula of the puzzling never grows stale, whilst enough new elements are introduced along the way to ensure players are doing something new. The boss battles in particular are well designed and utilise clever battling mechanics, with each springing tricks and traps in the player’s way to really keep them on edge.
There’s enough on offer for completionists to get stuck into too, with plenty of collectables to find and bonus objectives to complete along the way – it ensures there’s a bit more to Keen: One Girl Army outside of just sliding your way through levels. I would be remiss not to mention that some levels did drag on a little bit too long though, especially if you wanted to try and find EVERYTHING there is on offer. This style of puzzling is perfect for quick bursts in levels, so when you come across a puzzle that takes close to twenty-minutes to try and figure out, it could get a little tedious. Fortunately, these instances are few and far between, with the puzzles adopting a satisfying quick pace for the most part.
Keen: One Girl Army offers a thoroughly enjoyable take on the classic ‘sliding puzzle’ formula, with Kim’s adventure full of charming and neat mechanics as you solve a myriad of cleverly designed puzzles, beat up an array of nasty baddies, and explore the fairly expansive world. Admittedly, traversal through levels could’ve been a bit better sign-posted and some levels were guilty of going on a bit too long, but neither issue stops Keen: One Girl Army from offering a neatly designed and fun puzzle-adventure.
Developer: Cat Nigiri
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PC