It isn’t hard to find a quality Metroidvania on the Switch (or even Steam for that matter). From Hollow Night to Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night to even its port of Ori and the Blind Forest, there’s plenty to keep you satisfied. But somehow, someway, Kunai has done just enough to stand out and be a recommendation for fans of the genre and newcomers alike.
What Is It?
Developed by the three-man Netherlands-based team Turleblaze, Kunai is pretty wild.
The game takes place in a world torn apart by machines and puts you in control of a cute little tablet named Tabby. Little do we know, however, is the fact that this little iPad is a badass ninja.
When you start the game, you’re only equipped with a jump and can’t do much, but eventually you’ll find yourself with a katana ready to shred everything in your path, and that’s not even where things get most interesting in this Metroidvania that highlights exploration.
Why Should I Care?
After a few minutes of running around and killing evil computers, Tabby will come across the kunai. For those crazy about all that ninja stuff, the kunai in the game aren’t really throwing knives. In this game, they’re grappling hooks, and you’ll eventually find yourself swinging across the game’s expansive maps as Tabby like you’re a sword-wielding Spider-Man.
This is truly what sets the game apart from the rest of the genre. Grappling hooks are nothing new, as we’ve seen them in the likes of games like Metroid and even The Legend of Zelda used in innovative ways, but Kunai‘s pacing allows you to believe you’re actually improving as you venture through the game.
Like any other Metroidvania before it, there’s a map to that shows areas you’ve already been in, in addition to closed off areas that you can’t necessarily get to yet. In 2D or Metroid or Castlevania games, where for the most part you’re grounded, it’s pretty satisfying having Tabby use his grappling hook to scale walls filling as much map as possible. As a nod to games of the past, there are also a whole bunch of secret rooms that you can’t see on the map that hide useful loot like heart pieces to expand your health bar.
Aside from just the execution of exploration, part of what makes going from area to area so captivating is the game’s simplistic visuals. At first, they don’t feel look like anything special. They honestly look like a more realized version of Tiger Electronics toys for anybody that remembers those, and as your eyes get used to them, they just look like games being played on the Super Game Boy or Game Boy Color. Every area feels different primarily because of a slight change in pigmentation, but it also gives it a unique sense of style. All you really need to know is red is bad–kill anything red.
Though Kunai specializes in exploration, combat feels nice and snappy as well. The bulk of the damage Tabby deals will be via his katana while the kunai can get him out of rough situations, but you’ll eventually come across projectiles as well as the option to upgrade your abilities through a “Wi-Fi” store during your journey with the coins you’ll loot off enemies with different shapes and sizes.
That’s where the bosses come in. Each one serves as a lesson for how to use your equipment. The first one, for example, is one that swings down the middle of a stage with two platforms on each side, and it’s up to you to jump and clamp onto walls to avoid from getting hit and use the platforms to take another leap and slash the heck out of it. Another boss requires you to throw Shuriken in order to make platforms appear and slash at the top. I exploited this one and jumped on top of the boss while constantly slashing down, rendering the boss useless after about 30 seconds straight of downward slashes. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to beat the boss that way, but I’m also glad the game didn’t punish me for it either. There just aren’t a whole lot of better feelings in video games than feeling like you exploited it based on your own skill of the game alone.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The main draw to Kunai despite the wealth of similar games there are on the Switch and PC is just how fun it is to play. I had similar feelings when playing Katana ZERO last year; everything works, and the game is fun.
Are there rough edges? There definitely are. The game’s main low point is in its story, but solid writing and the fact that stories hardly matter in this type or game almost makes that a moot point. Strangely enough, two of the game’s biggest strengths can also be considered weaknesses. The visual style comes to mind. Again, they’re pretty simplistic and since the color schemes are as basic as they are, you’ll often come across obstacles on the ground or platforms that aren’t obstacles or platforms at all. The sense of visual depth is off, and it’s led to more deaths than they should have. The other strength is the game’s pacing. I stated earlier that each area does a great job of making you think about how to use arsenal of abilities, but early on you’ll find yourself on a battleship where you’ll have to be more reactive with your kunai than you’ll expect, leading to a lot of death falls. At that, everything is completely fair here, and the only time you’ll come to an accidental death will be because you’ll think something drawn in the distance can be interacted with when it really isn’t.
All that aside, Kunai is a heck of an experience that’s an easy recommendation especially during this slow part of the year.