Reviews - Updated on April 7, 2022

Relevant for platform: NSW

There have been so many metroidvanias coming out lately that every time it’s getting harder and harder to come up with an intro for the next review. What, for example, can be said about the new product called KUNAI? In the screenshots, she looks great – despite the poor color palette, the eye immediately clings to the pretty effects. It remains only to understand whether something worthy of attention is hidden behind the charming shell.

Flat ninja

In the KUNAI universe, humanity is on the verge of extinction, which is the fault of the artificial intelligence Limonkus. The almost destroyed world is now inhabited by robots, but even among them there are those who are not satisfied with the new leader. Dissenters opened a resistance camp, but over the past few years they have not been able to achieve anything significant. One stands still and is sad because of the closed door, which no one can open for a long time, the other is upset by rumors about a monster in the mines, but he himself will not go there in his life. There are dozens of such useless pieces of iron here.

Tabby comes to the rescue, a walking tablet computer, who will have to take the rap for everyone and help everyone. This is the only hero of the game who is able to express at least some emotions – no matter what he does, a pixel grimace appears on his screen. He runs, jumps, clings to the wall – the expression of his “face” is constantly changing, which looks funny even closer to the finale. And if he has a low health reserve, an empty charge icon is displayed on the screen.

KUNAI quickly ceases to be a banal platformer with jumps and punches and almost immediately demonstrates its main trump card, rendered in the name of the game. Having received two Japanese daggers, the user can cling to walls and ceilings by pressing the appropriate buttons, thus reaching hard-to-reach places. Kunai serve not only as climbing grappling hooks for climbing high walls, but also become the equivalent of a grappling grappling hook if you need to cross a gap, like Spider-Man, or fly over a trap on the floor.

Although there are more than enough surfaces for kunai to latch on to, some walls and ceilings just don’t come easy. In the case of them, other improvements and items will come in handy, including a double jump and machine guns, when fired at their feet, the character can move from one part of the room to another without touching the ground. But most often you can’t do without daggers – either you need to quickly fly from one platform to another until the ceiling closes, then the camera suddenly starts moving from left to right, forcing the player to maneuver and make quick decisions, trying not to run into spikes.

KUNAI game review

Can any of you try to find those stupid switches?

We met somewhere

Unfortunately, there are very few such cases. In most cases, one could change the kunai to a normal boosted jump or let the hero climb walls – and hardly anything would change. Daggers are fun to use, and when the game offers some really fun, challenging challenges, it’s not without fun. But outside of them, KUNAI is nothing special – it is a textbook metroidvania, the minimum set of elements that you would expect from a game of this type in 2020, without adding any unique features.

There are locations connected to each other, differing in color palette and design. There are different kinds of opponents: some shoot, others prefer close combat, others explode, and in the second half of the game there are even more annoying opponents, whom it is desirable to stun with shurikens. The character can repel projectiles with his katana, but this mechanic is used only in fights with ordinary enemies, and it is not such an important element as in Katana ZERO – it just looks stylish, so we decided to add it.

The bosses are not bad, but there is not much to praise them for. Finding a path to victory and identifying weak points is almost always possible within a couple of seconds, and you will not die more than once – some platforming episodes require more attempts than these battles. As you progress, you can save only in certain places, and in case of death, you do not lose the earned progress – the doors and chests remain open, the collected currency is not taken away.

Money allows you to spend on all sorts of improvements to the main character and his arsenal. Tabbies can be taught to attract money from enemies so they don’t have to collect each coin themselves. Assault rifles will shoot more accurately and boast larger magazines, and another upgrade will allow you to create a kind of slingshot if you hook onto adjacent walls with daggers and pull the stick down. In fact, this is a useless improvement that I constantly forgot about, but a couple of times it accelerated the rise after a long fall.

KUNAI game review

Fighting grimace quickly replaced by a smile.

There is a way back

What is most frustrating about KUNAI is the location design and the “backtracking” that goes with it. You are given a task to defeat someone or find something in a certain area. To get there, you will have to face either dead ends that cannot be overcome without gadgets, or with closed doors, for the sake of opening which you need to look for levers. The lever is found – go back the same way, seeing exactly the same rooms as the first time.

There are very few short paths, so it will often be long and dreary to return through familiar locations. Enemies remain the same (and periodically resurrect), the environment does not change, Tabbies do not always give out new skills at these moments, and there is no fast movement in any form. Well, at least, the names of all zones and the exit routes to them are written in yard letters on the map. It will be difficult to get confused, given how accessible the next goal is explained here. But still, the lack of a teleport in metroidvania is some kind of inappropriate attempt to add “old school”, and it’s time for developers to get rid of this habit.

It looks especially strange because there are almost no secrets in the locations. There are hidden chests in KUNAI where the player can find either dozens of headwear for the protagonist or heart fragments to increase health. But they are hidden in such a way that it will be possible to find them only if you rub against each wall in the hope of the appearance of a “transparent” texture. The game does not hint at their presence in any way – it is simply indicated on the map that there are five chests somewhere around here. Sometimes I tried to find them in obvious places, but even they turned out to be a trick, and in the end I didn’t want to waste time completely clearing each region.

It may seem that the text is more negative than positive, but in the end KUNAI seemed like a good game to me. It is very convenient to control the character – both jump and cling to ceilings with daggers, swinging on ropes and flying over spiked platforms. Fights are not boring, and usually they try not to overwhelm a bunch of opponents: they will put them in a room with one or two enemies and do what you like with them – at least beat off shells, at least jump on their heads and slash with a katana, at least stun with shurikens and beautifully crumble into small details .

***

But still, KUNAI does not stand out from the competition with almost nothing, except for an unusual visual style. It’s just a decent metroidvania that’s fun to play despite the mediocre map design and not the most outstanding bosses. Run, jump, laugh at the main character, play with daggers – for those eight hours that you have to spend on passing, the game will leave more positive emotions than negative ones. If you have already passed all the amazing representatives of the genre and somehow managed to miss metroidvanias, this one will be far from the worst choice.

Pros: unusual visual style; charming protagonist; convenient management; swinging on ropes is fun; various opponents.

Cons: a lot of not very interesting “backtracking” and few useful secrets; almost all bosses are simple; lack of innovations that distinguish the game from competitors.

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