A tablet in a PC’s world
It’s not often you get to control a tablet that is also a ninja, and by not often, I mean I’ve never done it before. Well, that’s exactly what you get to do in Kunai. Set in a world that has been ravaged by an AI called Lemonkus, you play as a tablet named Tabby, and you might well be the last hope of all who hope to stand against this evil. That’s not much good, to begin with though because this is a Metroidvania, and you know what that means? It means you’ve got basically no abilities or power.
Of course, that’ll all change as you progress through the story. There are a fair few upgrades to pick up, but if you want them all, you’ll need to talk to every person you can and check every single room too. The first one you get is the titular kunai, which allow you to grapple and swing around the scenery. You get these from a story-based dungeon, which is standard stuff, but I got the double jump by chatting to a random robot in one of the safe areas, so you really do need to chat to everyone just in case.
Both of those power-ups are all about movement, and for the most part, so is the game itself. While it does have its fair share of combat, it’s fairly easy for the most part. The bosses do offer unique challenges but often feel more like puzzles than fights, which is my preference in a game like this anyway.
Might as well jump
The platforming is the real star of the show here, at least when it comes to gameplay. Your jump is a little bit floaty and takes a bit of time to get used to, but it does feel good once you’ve adjusted. The kunai grappling is easy to use and quick, and it the ability to maintain momentum or change direction is entirely based on your own ability to control your exit and learn the rhythm you need to do so. It’s a wonderfully satisfying feeling to catapult yourself up over multiple platforms, but that’s matched by an equally brutal low when you accidentally yeet yourself into a wall of spikes.
One of the most intriguing things about Kunai is that you can use your sword for mobility too. Swinging and hitting something will knock you back, but where back is depends on which direction you swung in. If you swing down, for example, then you’ll be knocked up a short way. This allows you to clear rooms in a blink of an eye while never touching the ground. It’s great, and it never gets old either.
Along with the abilities you unlock, you can also upgrade them further if you can find a wifi router. You need to access a kind of in-game app store to upgrade yourself, and you can’t do that without a signal. Each upgrade is worthwhile, and some completely change the way the game feels. For example, if you purchase the charge attack for your katana, you’ll unlock the ability to automatically home in on enemies and obliterate a room of basic enemies while looking incredibly badass, which is something every ninja game should have.
Tablet computer on an oil canvas
You’ve probably already fallen in love with the minimalist visual style, but let me wax lyrical about it for a second anyway. The stark single-colour backgrounds and gorgeous use of just red and blue as markers allow for a world that feels a bit like a pixel painting on an old canvas. Each area has its own hue, and you get a different emotional response as a result. My favourite was an underground area that had been abandoned; it was a sombre shade of green, which isn’t something I’d ever really considered possible before. Also, Tabby’s face is a constant delight, and the game is almost worth playing for the expressions alone.
On top of that, you’ve also got the sound design. The music is perfectly conducted to give you a constant twang of nostalgia, one that will have you fondly thinking of games like Mario and Sonic (when Sonic was good, briefly), and sometimes the level design feels like it’s meant to hark back to ye olde video games too. Plus, the sound effects are incredible, each enemy gives off a different pained tone when struck, and sometimes it’s worth beating up an enemy just to hear the noise they make.
Kunai balances a gorgeous style in everything it does. Gameplay, graphics, and sound design mesh excellently into a wonderful Metroidvania that’ll have you hooked from start to finish. It’s not perfect, the combat could be a bit harder, but it’s fun at every turn, and that’s always worth applauding. If you’re looking for something to jump into ahead of the chaos of the upcoming months and you love a good bit of exploration and platforming, then you’d be missing out if you didn’t check out Kunai.
[Reviewed on PC]