The Arcade Crew, which published the excellent Blazing Chrome, has another potential hit under its wing. KUNAI makes a strong case for being the next indie Metroidvania to be excited for. With its clean retro aesthetic that evokes images of pastel dreams, this post-apocalyptic world brings robots to life. Furthermore, developer TurtleBlaze hit the nail on the head in terms of creating simple yet satisfying combat.
A Robot Ninja in KUNAI
In KUNAI, you play as Tabby, a sentient computer-humanoid hybrid in a cold, cruel future. Something caused most humans to disappear, and robots rule the world. Tabby, who inexplicably has the soul of a powerful warrior, uses their skills to explore the world, killing evil robots along the way.
The game starts in a way that’s eerily reminiscent of Mega Man Zero, with a small group seeking to awaken Tabby. That group gets wiped out, but it’s too late—Tabby wakes up. At that point, you control the protagonist, and you quickly find a sword that drains other robots of their energy.
My hands-on time with the game took place at the beginning, so it didn’t present too much of a challenge. However, I got some Bloodborne vibes, in that measured aggression is rewarded. If you take damage, running away doesn’t do much to help you. Instead, killing enemies replenishes your health, rewarding risk takers.
The combat doesn’t present itself as a deep system. You press a button, you swing the katana in whatever direction you want. If you’re in the air, swinging it below you lets you bounce. Nonetheless, it’s satisfying to make enemy robots explode, and maintaining an air combo feels satisfying.
What About the KUNAI?
KUNAI really starts to shine when you earn the titular kunai. Tabby finds two of them, and they each hover to the left and right of them. You can then use the triggers to launch them, and if they hit terrain, you can use them to climb or swing. I immediately channeled my inner Spider-Man, and swinging around rooms you’ve traversed before feels exhilarating.
They quickly begin to feel like a third and fourth arm, lending themselves to some slick stunts. While the hovering kunai looked a little goofy, it somehow fits the aesthetic Tabby has. After all, this is a robot with a lot of personality. They have resting happy face, and when you crouch, they adopt a cat-like face. Swinging your sword brings out an angry face, while running forward puts an inquisitive emoticon on their face-screen. Tabby is adorable in all the right ways, to the point where you forget that they’re made of bits and circuitry.
In the demo, I got to a point where I could invest in some skills. The interface triggered that primal part of my brain that loves to see my player character get stronger. KUNAI seems like it could deliver in a big way here, giving you upgrades that change the way you play. Aside from typical damage buffs, I found one ability that would turn Tabby into a slingshot while the two kunai were anchored to terrain. Considering this is a Metroidvania, I expect to see more creative upgrades along the way that affect platforming.
Overall, I left the booth at PAX wanting more of KUNAI. TurtleBlaze developed an intriguing demo here, and the folks running the booth promised that more weapons await. More weapons likely means more interesting upgrades, which I can’t wait to see.
KUNAI is currently being developed for PC and Nintendo Switch. No release date has been announced, but you can wishlist the game on Steam for more updates.