There's plenty of things that can attract me to a Metroidvania. I'll be honest, it doesn't take much. It's a genre I like by default. One of those things is "cute faces." That's the thing that attracted me to Kunai. I tried the game out at PAX South and really enjoyed my small sampling of it, so I jumped a the chance to go at the full game. Was this a Metroidvania for me to enjoy, or does it not have the substance to back up its style?
You play as Tabby, a little tablet freed from prison by a group of robots. The bad news is that humanity seems to have been destroyed. The slightly better (but honestly still not great) news is that there's a new war going on between two robot factions. You join up with those trying to stop the robots from destroying the rest of the world. That's really about all there is to the story, it's not a very complicated tale. There are a few funny characters, but no one who really stands out. Three different robot leaders wear eyepatches to convey how cool they are.
At the start, Tabby wields little more than a sword and the ability to jump. It isn't long before he gets ahold of the titular kunai, which allow Tabby to latch onto and climb specific walls, or swing over gaps like Spider-Man. Tabby holds a kunai in each hand, and each trigger has him use the one associated with that hand. There's no aiming necessary, as the game will auto-lock to the closest surface you can attach to. This is a simple enough set-up, and before long I was able to use the kunai to climb walls and swing over gaps with the best of them.
However, this may have been my first problem with Kunai . That's all there is to Tabby's signature item. They're little more than a super basic exploration tool that other games have already done, some better. By the end of the game, they were still performing the exact same function. You never used them to grapple enemies or to interact with the environment in a unique way. They let you swing or climb walls. It seems weird for the game's titular tools to be so underutilized.
The rest of the equipment you find pulls dual purpose between combat and exploration. The shuriken can stun enemies or power electrical switches with a single throw. Your SMGs give you something to attack at range but also provide a "float" manuver if you shoot downward. Despite getting more weapons, especially those that let you fight at range, you always want to keep the sword ready. There are only two ways to heal in Kunai: get to a save point or kill an enemy with a sword. Technically, you can buy an upgrade that lets you heal over time, but it's so insanely slow that I would never consider it.
This means combat is usually pretty fun, a sometimes difficult dance where you try to lure enemies in so you can get them with your sword while you simutaneously avoid their attacks. There's plenty of enemy types, including teleporting suicide bombers, robots that wait in bushes to ambush you, and flying laser sword-wielders with the ability to dodge. I was actually surprised by how large the enemy variety was, and I was constantly changing up my playstyle to deal with it.
Combat hits both its highs and lows during Kunai's boss fights. Some of them are great, making use of all your tools in a creative way. One boss fight is against a weird black blob that zips around the arena spawning buddies. Another has you climbing a mountain while avoiding rockets and spikes. These moments are fantastic, really serving as highlights whenever they crop up. Despite that, bosses have no checkpoints, and a few have long, easy, first phases with much more difficult second phases.
Remember that mountain climbing while spike dodging? After you do that four times, you have to do the second part of the fight, a platforming challenge featuring an incoming wall of death. A crummy camera and strange platform layout makes this stage particularly difficult, which means I was often dying and repeating the entire boss fight. Some other fights just don't make it clear what you're supposed to do, such as one fight that has you being chased by a robot that will kill you if you make contact with it, and doesn't appear to get hurt in any way. It's a shame these few crummy boss fights stand out, as they really drag the experience down.
There are some platforming and exploration done outside of combat, and as you get more tools you can explore more places. There's plenty of secrets and little things to find, including a bunch of hats to deck Tabby out in the latest fashion. Naturally, you can also find heart pieces that, if you combine them all, become more health for your health bar. None of it is revolutionary, but it's all done well enough and by doing some extra exploration it made my final playtime for Kunai clock in at a solid 7 or 8 hours.
I mentioned it before, but it must be mentioned again. Tabby makes the most adorable faces. Really, the art is just A+ all over the board, and there is some extremely solid pixel art and use of colors in the full release. The soundtrack is good enough, with a few catchy themes making their way through the game. It's a nice package, and I really like what I saw here.
Kunai Review | Final Thoughts
By the end of Kunai, I can safely say I had a pretty good time. It's nothing really unique or special, but it's a solid entry to the Metroidvania genre that gets enough right to be worth playing. I wish it did a little more with its concepts, and the occasional bad boss fight really drags the game down, but I'm still glad I played the game.
Also, I'm glad I saw all of Tabby's wonderful faces.
TechRaptor reviewed Kunai on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC.
- Large Enemy Variety
- Some Great Boss Fights
- Fantastic Art Style
- The Actual Kunai are Meh
- Some Really Lame Boss Fights
- Doesn't Try Anything Unique