KUNAI | Review
Alternative Titles: Red vs Blue | Tabby's Fashion Quest
Release Date: February 6th 2020
Playing Time: 8-12 hours
Sitting at a sub $20 price point, Kunai is like a short novel that could entertain for a weekend or a road trip, and be revisited at one's leisure.
Kunai is a fast paced action platformer that doesn't come up short in the charisma department. Starting the game you're quickly introduced to the hero, Tabby, and I'm fairly certain that frowning is not apart of his TabOs. Your participation in a robot resistance is implied as you take control of Tabby in the opening scene where you are liberated from your test tube cage by those resistance forces. With little choice in the matter, you are geared toward a katana and with it you begin down the path of epic robot carnage and destruction.
In a not so distant future...
Humans take a back seat in this story, in fact I think we left the last of them back at the previous rest stop. The evil A.I. Lemonkus has nearly wiped all human life from the planet and robots roam free across the earth with no one to govern them. The future is packed with robots, as you progress through the game Tabby encounters many bad robots marked by their red colored screens and many resistance fighters marked their blue screens. As if by protocol, any red screen you encounter immediately makes an attempt on your life.
The core gameplay of Kunai follows classic metroidvania regiments. You begin with nothing and grow your arsenal of skills and weapons as you race toward the final areas of the game. You quickly acquire kunai which serve as grappling hooks. These hooks can attach to any soft surfaces but not to any hard objects, and throughout the game this dynamic is designed into nearly all the levels you'll be working through. This increased focus on a level design that requires grappling hooks to move around each stage is a nice departure from classic run, dash, and double jump mechanics found in most metroidvania titles. Don't worry though, all of the above capabilities become available to you during your journey.
Combat consists of heavy katana usage until you find the smg's. For a good portion of the game you will quick slash your enemies with no remorse. Even after finding ranged weaponry the katana remains as your primary weapon. There is a particular weapon achieved on Zen Mountain that I enjoyed using, but nearly set the game on easy mode. Each weapon obtained serves a dual purpose, hurting your enemies but also as an object required to continue the game. Though this weapon served the thematic purpose well, battling basic enemies became too easy once it was obtained.
There are nearly no RPG elements save for upgrading your sword at a late stage and increasing your lifebar through gathering robot heart pieces. The game mostly consists of gathering required skills and weapons to continue forward, but there are some weapon enhancements available for purchase with the currency that each defeated enemy drops.
Kunai ditches a map completion percentage counter, an element found in many newer metroidvanias, for a treasure chest counter which displays how many of the treasure chests you've found for that zone. You can find currency, hats, or parts of a health increase item in any one of these chests. The backtracking aspect that is often apart of this genre is minimal unless you're really hunting for those last few chests hidden behind false walls.
Sizing the rest up...
When compared to Castlevania games or 2019's Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, Kunai could almost be considered linear. There is not nearly as much backtracking or farming as some other titles out there. The save points act like regenerators, so when you perish you're restored to the last save room and you retain all map progress and currency. But while save zones act like regenerators you're unable to warp from save room to save room and are required to travel by foot between zones, which I found a little bit frustrating. While the total map is large, a central zone helps connect you where you need to go and your ninja movement helps cover some larger distances quite nicely.
The overall story and game progress is fast paced, I was able to complete the whole game while grabbing over half the hats in about 10 hours. There is plenty of small talk with the resistance, but it never felt like I was fighting a cohesive opposing force when it came to the enemy. Instead each bosses dialogue felt detached from Lemonkus, the antagonist, favoring each evil robots own ambitions. Most bosses were fun to fight with a couple fairly easy battles, though the game could have benefited having more of them. Notably there were some fun references in the dialogue, several references to the Final Fantasy series, and some homage to other pop culture through the fashion of hats.
Kunai's art style and score held firm throughout the game, both being extremely delightful. Each zone delivered a new track as well as having its own color palette. There are also plenty of enemies to deal with throughout the game, and each exploded in a glorious plume of shrapnel upon defeat. Some of my favorite moments were toward the end where the difficulty started ramping up in fighting more difficult enemy types and a scene that required me to fight enemy wave after wave. The overall difficulty of the game isn't very high, but I did die many many times. These deaths often came on the heels of my hubris when trying to maintain the level of speed I've been accustomed to throughout the game.
Given the size of TurleBlaze's three man dev team, Kunai delivers a lot in a charming package while providing a satisfying action-packed experience. There could have been more expansion in some of the elements of the game, but everything that has been delivered is polished and exceptional. Sitting at a sub $20 price point, Kunai is like a short novel that could entertain for a weekend or a road trip, and be revisited at one's leisure.
(This review was written playing a review copy of the game provided by The Arcade Crew)