Kunai is a resounding success in my book. Available February 6 on Steam and Nintendo Switch, you play as Tabby, a sentient tablet which bears the spirit of an ancient warrior. Humanity has been nearly wiped out by a rogue AI, so the world is left to the machines. Take up your katana, strap on your kunai, and join the blue-coated Resistance as you fight to avenge what was lost.
Finally, I get to talk about how much I like this game. Kunai was a pleasant surprise. I honestly brushed it off after seeing the trailer, thinking I didn’t have time for another indie side-scroller. Don’t get me wrong, I love those types of titles, but time is a precious commodity in the sea of recent releases.
Boy howdy am I glad I made the time for Kunai. From the outset, the game provides consistent thrills. It’s not perfect, but three hours had flown by before I even thought to look at my watch. Very few games can do that to me anymore.
I love the metroidvania genre, having grown up with Super Metroid and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, both of which I contend sit among the greatest games ever made. The mashup of both franchises has established itself a firm formula over the years, providing the exploration and character progression I love in a 2D game.
TurtleBlaze, the developers behind this gem, nailed the combat and exploration elements. One of my favorite moments throughout my playthrough took place early in the game, stumbling on an enemy turret that was impervious to my attacks. Spamming the katana attack button and reflecting the bullets, it killed the foe and left me unharmed.
I’m glad I made time for Kunai. From the outset, it’s a total thrill.
As is typical of metroidvania experiences, Kunai features ongoing themes of discovery. I often stumbled on hidden troves just because I wanted to climb every wall with my trusty kunai knives. Not only is it just fun to continually explore, but each environment has unique styling, keeping you engaged as you move forward. The retro-futuristic and washed-out color palette makes Kunai instantly recognizable and memorable too.
I also really love how the game flows. Killing enemies with your katana regenerates health, and destroying them (or other objects) drops coins to purchase upgrades for abilities and weapons. Checking out unexplored parts of your map is addicting and luckily, save stations are sprinkled throughout the levels. These give you a handy checkpoint system that still requires you to play smart and carefully — dying can frequently result in a lot of wasted time backtracking.
The final signature that pulls Kunai together is the soundtrack, which hearkens back to the old arcade days. It’s there to augment the gaming experience, not draw attention to itself. Indeed, it fades into the background, and while repetitive, it doesn’t drive you to madness.
What I didn’t like about Kunai
Having played on PC, my only complaint with this game is the control scheme on the keyboard. While I didn’t expect a typical WASD and mouse layout, it felt awkward and uncomfortable to me. Even after playing for a solid few hours, I had trouble getting things right.
Granted, I play on a 65 percent compact board, and the keyboard on my laptop, both naturally cramped when one hand is on QWASD/spacebar and the other on arrow keys. However, once I switched over to a controller, I had a much easier time playing Kunai.
Should you buy Kunai?
Absolutely, yes, especially if you love side-scroller metroidvania-style action. While it lacks the visual flair and storytelling of genre hits like Hollow Knight, Kunai is undoubtedly among my list of top games for 2020. It’s polished, it’s funny, and best of all, it’s a great time for hours on end.
But if you’re playing the PC version, I strongly recommend using a controller. The keyboard controls just don’t feel right to me — though, like I mentioned, I play games on smaller keyboards, so I’m willing to chalk this gripe up to that. Still, I found that the controller option felt much better and more enjoyable.
Other than the odd difficulty spike, Kunai is a smooth-sailing ship. The story and levels progress nicely, and the boss battles pose a welcome challenge. I did get frustrated at points, but coming back after a break served to remind me how well-rounded this game is.
Kunai is worth the small cost to entry, so kudos to the TurtleBlaze team. Kunai is available now on Steam and Nintendo Switch, priced at $17.