Even though it’s a mostly unchallenging game, Kunai is fast, charming, and above all – fun. Breezing through this Metroidvania as a ninja tablet just works.
According to Wikipedia, Kunai is a Japanese tool commonly associated with the ninja and mostly used to gouge holes in walls. According to developer TurtleBlaze, Kunai is a stylish, fast-paced indie Metroidvania.
At first, the game might feel like a skinny version of Hollow Knight or Sundered, but it soon finds its own path. Kunai is much faster, sillier, and yes – more forgiving.
A Tablet That’s Also A Ninja
What initially drew me to Kunai was its premise – you play a tablet that is a ninja. Do you really care why you play a tablet that’s also a ninja? I didn’t think so. It’s one of those premises that just clicks.
The devs make the (correct) assumption that there’s no real need for an explanation. The game barely has any story, and it’s much more focused on fast-paced performing and action. However, in case you’re interested in the story, here’s what I pieced together:
You are Tabby, the ninja tablet. The game’s official description says something about a “killer robot infused with the soul of an ancient warrior,” but it’s never mentioned in-game. And frankly, there’s no real reason it should be. In a world populated by CRT monitors with machine guns, I don’t see why a tablet wielding a katana should raise an eyebrow.
The reason CRT monitors are walking around armed to the teeth is that humans are all but wiped out. The evil A.I. Lemonkus is remaking Earth in its own image, and humans don’t really fit the plan. You belong to a small group of machine rebels that try to help the remnants of humanity and take down Lemonkus. At least I think that’s what you’re trying to do…
To tell the truth, I had no idea why I was doing what I was doing other than “the game told me to do it.” But it doesn’t matter – playing Kunai is pure, uncomplicated fun.
A Pixelated Spider-Man
Kunai is what you might call a Metroidvania-lite. You explore, jump, fight, and collect upgrades that let you reach new areas where you can jump and fight some more. However, Kunai is a lot more contained than you’d expect. You do go through some areas more than once, but the game doesn’t give the freedom to choose which upgrade to chase next. While you can choose where to go in the overall map, there’s little to no reason to abandon the path set by the main objective. There are almost no optional areas, no hidden bosses, and not many secrets to uncover (unless you really like hats).
But exploration is still very engaging thanks to how agile Tabby can be. Apart from the regular jumps and double jumps, Kunai also has, well, kunai. These aren’t used as a weapon, but instead, let you grapple onto surfaces and swing around like a pixelated Spider-Man. And it feels great. Using the kunai is my favorite part of the game.
You also have a few other ways of getting around, like using dual SMGs as a jetpack, dashing, and rocket jumping. These aren’t as cool as being a kunai Spider-Tablet, but they are easy and satisfying to pull off.
My only issue with the game’s platforming is that that controls can sometimes be a little iffy. Whenever you need to react quickly or move with precision, you discover that Tabby isn’t as responsive as it should be. However, with a little practice, you quickly learn to adjust and, apart from a few annoying instances, you’ll soon be flying through the levels.
A Killer App
The second part of Kunai’s gameplay is combat. While you swing and jump and dash, you also need to tackle a small army of machines. Each area introduces new enemies you need to find out how to best destroy. Most of them are pretty straightforward to deal with, but some pose a serious challenge. Until you discover how to take them down, and the game becomes a cakewalk.
This is a pretty straightforward game. Every enemy follows a set pattern, and once you figure out how to exploit it, you can usually dispose of them without getting hit. If you do get hit, you can quickly recover lost health by killing enemies – every kill gives you a nice chunk of your life bar back.
The only real challenge is the bosses. In a classic Metroidvania fashion, they usually appear right after you acquire a new skill or weapon, which just so happens to be the key to defeating the boss. They always feel tough but fair and force you to master your new abilities or repeatedly die trying.
As a veteran of Hollow Knight, I sliced through Kunai’s bosses pretty easily (with the notable exception of the final boss). However, the accessible combat and diverse boss fights offer a great experience for beginners or those looking for fast, empowering action.
Blue vs. Red
Kunai’s retro vibe puts the Metroid in this Metroidvania. The pixel art style is expertly done, and the chiptune soundtrack fits well with both the look and “world ruled by machines” concept. To complete its retro look, the game goes for a very minimalist color palette, with only three or four colors on the screen at any given moment. The backgrounds are usually one color, while Tabby (and friendly characters) wear blue, and enemies are red. I’m not sure I like it, though.
Kunai looks nice enough, true, but everything that’s not Tabby or an enemy kind of blends together and fades into the background. On the one hand, it means you can always focus on what’s important. On the other, it makes most environments utterly forgettable.
Luckily, Tabby itself is a pretty memorable protagonist – it just looks oh-so-adorable with its various “facial expression.” It is one of the cutest killer tablets I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet; its astound expression every time you find an item always fills me with joy.
Kunai is fast, charming, and above all – fun. Veterans might find it a bit too easy, but movement and combat are so smooth, you probably won’t even notice you’re breezing through the levels.
I would have liked a deeper experience, and maybe more reasons to keep exploring this post-apocalyptic world. However, if you’re just getting into the genre (as I was not too long ago), Kunai is a fantastic place to start.
Publisher: The Arcade Crew
Release Date: Feb. 6, 2020
Our Kunai review copy was provided by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.