Kunai knows how to very quickly make you feel like a badass. Early on in this stylish side-scrolling metroidvania adventure, your only tool is a katana, but where many games of this genre would make this be a basic and unimpressive weapon, Kunai lets you deflect bullets.
Each push and pull of the blade sends projectiles flying back at unsuspecting opponents, and just as I was coming down from the high of feeling like an unstoppable ninja warrior, Kunai quickly went to the next level by giving me access to the titular throwing weapon. While I would spend the rest of the game performing feats of acrobatic insanity with my kunai, I would only rarely get to experience that same satisfaction with the rest of my toolset.
In a world overrun by malicious robots, an unwavering pocket of untainted resistance fighters invade a locked-down science facility in order to unearth their last hope for survival – you. More specifically, the scientifically-enhanced robotic warrior with an iPad for a head named Tabby. With wide-eyed enthusiasm and a deadly katana, you’ll need to assist the robotic resistance fighters in their mission to take down the all-seeing AI that started this apocalypse in the first place.
While your protagonist is silent, they’re far from unexpressive; as you run, jump and slash your way through the game, Tabby will have a variety of vivid and adorably goofy expressions on their face. The moments of written humor in Kunai offer a chuckle here and there, but the charm of seeing Tabby’s facial expressions change throughout the game never wore off.
Unfortunately, the the gameplay doesn’t have quite the same amount of staying power as Tabby’s adorable tablet face. The beginning moments of Kunai gift you with a katana-swinging melee attack that drains enemy health upon their defeat, as well as a pair of rope-tied kunai that you can use to climb up walls, swing across ceilings and more as you master the dynamic momentum behind this trusty ninja tool. While the map design of Kunai consistently gives you an excuse to utilise your kunai and smoothly traverse tricky platforms, the equally stylish bullet-deflecting capabilities of your katana are never explored to their full potential.
Two different enemies in the game require you to deflect bullets in order to best them, but the rest of your opponents can simply be defeated with well-timed strikes or with any of the three ranged weapons you later unlock. While some bosses are designed to be dispatched by using projectiles of your own, there was never an encounter that relied on deft melee skills, deflecting waves of bullet-hell style projectiles, or running down a long hallway full of bullets that needed deflectin’. None of the combat in Kunai feels bad, but when I finished the game and realised that the coolest things I had done were swing around with kunai and deflect some bullets that one time, I was left feeling a little disappointed.
Kunai still oozes style in other areas though, and those aspects of the game help make up for the sometimes lackluster combat design. The entire world, for example, is rendered in a variety of single-tone colour palettes reminiscent of vertical roguelike Downwell. A mountain oasis is rendered in shades of yellow and pale browns, while an underground labyrinth filled with lava is made up of dark blacks and tones of orange or red. Tabby and his flowing, vibrant blue cape always contrast against these backdrops, as do the bright reds of enemies and their projectiles. The result is a uniquely gorgeous visual experience, and while the limited colour palette led to some environmental elements blending together confusingly, it was rare enough not to be an issue.
The gorgeous art of the world is complemented by a kinetic, lo-fi soundtrack full of synth sounds and retro earworms that kept me engaged throughout the entire experience. There’s plenty of great sound effect work in the game, as well. When it comes to aesthetic, Kunai knows what it’s going for and gets there with no hesitation.
There isn’t much replayability to Kunai, but the sprawled-out map design and consistent upgrade loop kept things feeling open and engaging during the brief length of the campaign. You’ll revisit areas on more than one occasion as you unlock new equipment that gives you means of exploring previously blocked off pathways. While you’re there, there are also a variety of hidden chests that contain upgrade tokens, maximum health upgrades, and even a variety of adorable unlockable hats.
Kunai might have been a little cut and dry if it were a standard, left-to-right experience, but the added intricacy of the map layouts and bevy of unlockables added a significant sense of exploration to the experience.