The beauty of Indie games is how free and creative they can be; especially when they mix elements that wouldn’t normally be mixed. What happens when you mix a post-apocalyptic setting with a robotic beings decked out in samurai inspired clothing and weapons? The answer is Kunai, an Indie game that displays its unique identity and gameplay like its a medal!
Kunai is a quirky & fast paced 2D action platformer developed by TurtleBlaze & published by The Arcade Crew. The Indie game released on February 6th 2020 on Steam, Nintendo Switch and GOG.com. This review will be covering the Steam version of the game, played with only a keyboard rather than a controller; a review copy was provided by the developers. Many screenshots are from the early game, to ensure I could focus on the later game instead of getting good shots.
Despite being an Indie platformer, Kunai has a surprisingly fun story with quite a bit effort put into the backstory and cutscenes. A tragic event has shaken the world apart, nearly wiping out humanity entirely by the sinister A.I. Lemonkus; and now robots roam the Earth. You play as Tabby, a killer tablet-robot who has been infused with the soul of an ancient warrior; and you must rise to save humanity! You are a NINJA TABLET!
Throughout your quest, Tabby will meet friendly robots along the way including Earl & Chief, who help guide your way through the mayhem. They’ll likely make you laugh a bit as well! You’ll also unlock secrets about the world as you gain more power in preparation to take on Lemonkus once and for all!
There are small, cutscene like sequences here and there; but most of the story takes place through dialogue bubbles from characters who explain what’s going on. Tabby’s character is told through hilarious facial expressions, which often reflect what the player is feeling quite well. It’s endearing because it never takes itself too seriously; it knows exactly what it is and it embraces it, which I love to see in a game like this.
Let’s be honest, if you’re looking for a game with a deep & captivating story; you’re looking in the wrong place. However, if you’re looking for something simple, quirky and a robo-load of fun; you’re likely going to enjoy the story of Kunai through and through! This is a very enjoyable story that will help keep you motivated through this fast paced sidescroller!
Kunai‘s gameplay is sweet, simple and an absolute blast once you get a hang of the controls; and then continues to improve as the game goes on. This works because the controls are easy to remember and it doesn’t require a ton of practice to get good at; even though it might be a tad difficult at the start.
The keyboard controls are quite simple: use the arrow keys to move around, space bar to jump, A & D to swing either left or right and S to attack! The controls are very tight, which is a godsend in a game where combat and platforming are fused into a single core experience.
You’ll start off with absolutely nothing; and as you explore you’ll find a legendary Katana and Kunai that will allow you to fight and swing around! This sets up the rest of the game, where you will explore different areas for weapons and gear to help you combat your opponents; with each level being distinctly unique with different objects. This keeps the gameplay fresh and the challenge intact; while not boring the player from using the same attack patterns the entire game.
Throughout the levels there are placed traps, a variety of enemy types and bosses you’ll have to fight your way through. This is nothing new to a metroidvania type game like this, however what struck me was how enjoyable it was to whip around with my Kunai and preform deadly strikes against my enemies. Bosses are a genuine joy to fight, as they are all unique from each other and require solid thinking and execution to take down!
Despite looking like a game that belongs on a 90’s Gameboy, Kunai feels quite advanced in its ideas and gameplay executions. Firstly it doesn’t hold your hand often at all, requiring you to figure the game and maps out all on your own. It respects the player by allowing you to go at your own pace, and explore the levels as you will.
Challenges are added frequently and are often unique to each level. For example, one of the earlier levels introduces killer robots in ghillie suits that hide through the level and pop up when the player gets close. The same level also applies metal walls that kunai can’t attach to, as well as vines that will catch you in mid air. These are just a few examples of things the game throws at you that keeps it fresh and challenging!
When you get more weapons and gear further in the game, the experience really kicks off to be a thrilling one! From upgrades to your kunai to stretch far and fast, with double jump for enhanced platforming and other skills that will open up other areas to maps that were previously inaccessible! This is a game that gets better and better the more you play, and as the hours pass you’ll find yourself becoming a tablet ninja pro!
There are a few small issues with the gameplay, mostly within the combat of some enemies. Suicide bombers are generally unfair to fight since they explode with little warning with no time to dodge it; another second or two notice would balance things out. Sometimes swinging or flying around can feel slightly clunky; and you can easily lose control if you’re not perfect at the controls. Otherwise, the gameplay is as solid as a metal robot.
Kunai features an minimalistic pixelated art style that will bring you back to retro games of old. The graphics are simultaneously the most unique and troublesome element of the game; because while it looks unique it can have some detriment to gameplay. Even with the pixelated art style, the game looks very impressive and runs at high framerates; allowing it to feel like a new game with a throwback aesthetic.
It’s rare to play a game with an art style so reminiscent of games before the addition of many colours. The large majority of the game features settings that are beige, blue or purple; and are shaded with different versions of the same colours. This is great because characters largely stand out and are easy to see; using colours like red or a vibrant blue.
Unfortunately, there are poor colour choices that make interactable objects look like background material; resulting in instances where gameplay comes to a full stop as to try and figure out what to do. This happened on a number of occasions which caused some genuine frustration towards the game. In fact, this was such an issue that I had to step away several times because this single flaw was so annoying and common.
Otherwise the came looks aesthetically pleasing, old-school and unique; making for a memorable experience. There were no issues with lag or frame rate either, which is great to see on a game with such fast pace. Ultimately, the game looks wonderful despite some colour issues with interactable objects.
Music & Audio
Music & audio can often make or break the experience for a game; and thankfully Kunai features some brilliant sound design and music. Sound effects are clear and are recognizable, so the player will be able to know what the threat is by just the sound. Everything sounds crystal clear and is mixed wonderfully together; thus benefiting the gameplay experience as the audio is top quality.
The game features a soundtrack composed by Pongball that adds character, charm and adrenaline to Kunai‘s core experience. There are identifiable themes that are used throughout the game; especially in climactic action moments! The music overall adds a great deal of depth and urgency to Kunai, while never breaking the throwback feel that makes the game unique. Overall, solid props to Pongball and the mixing team for implementing a great soundtrack with great sound design resulting in added quality to the product.
Kunai is a quirky & fast paced 2D action platformer that preforms admirably in a market with heavy competition. Its willingness to reach back into the past aesthetically while simultaneously creating a modern day gameplay experience cannot be understated. The game’s success lies on its quick gameplay, a quirky story and the nostalgia of Gameboy style graphics with a wonderful sound design.
I found this game to be a shining example of what Indie games can offer; a unique experience that offers hours of enjoyment. Living in a time where games focus so hard on being photorealistic, Kunai offers a wonderful distraction with it’s great art direction and silly, fun premise. Its fast paced combat kept me coming back for more, especially since it was a game that required my full attention to piece together and complete. It’s challenging and rewarding all the same.
Despite some small issues that can be annoying, the game’s biggest flaw is also its greatest strength; the art style. I myself wishing it wasn’t so overly focused on being a throwback to retro-styled designs; but only because its concepts and enemies were so impressive. I would love to see a sequel that takes its best elements, the colourful computer-robot enemies, and build off of that aesthetic. This would also help avoid the issues with interactable objects looking like background art; which was infuriating to say the least.
Overall, Kunai is an absolutely fantastic 2D action platformer that will have you entertained for hours; and perhaps wanting even more upon completion. There’s a considerable amount I specifically didn’t cover in this review. because going in blind I found myself being really surprised with how advanced this game feels; and I don’t want to ruin any surprises here. If action platformers are your thing, Kunai is a game that I would highly recommend; and I hope to see a sequel in the future. I give Kunai a well deserved 85%!
The Last Pixel
A Steam code for Kunai was provided for this review; but has no effect on the authenticity of the praise and criticism this game received. The game was played primarily with a keyboard for the majority of the playthrough, with some sections played with an Xbox One Elite Series 2 controller. No real computer robots or tablets were harmed during the making of this review.
Kunai is available on PC via Steam (which features a free playable demo) & GOG.com alongside the Nintendo Switch for $16.99, digitally. If you would like to know more about the game, be sure to visit Kunai‘s official website!
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