Kunai is an action platformer with an eye-catching art-style, and it’s beyond just great; it feels excellent to play, it has great enemy variety and boss design, a great soundtrack, and an engaging world to explore and traverse through, partly because its traversal mechanics are so good and partly because the Metroidvania aspect of the game is really solid and fun. The only “catch” here is that, it has nothing really unique or innovative that you can’t find somewhere else, but the way it executes on familiar concepts and mixes them together creates this amazing game that fans of the action-platformer/Metroidvania genre will surely adore and is not one to be skipped.
In Kunai, you play as Tabby, an autonomous tablet that is awakened by resistance robots to help them fight an oppressive regime; as you can tell, the story is not something that was really focused on. It’s mostly played for laughs and sometimes it does provide context, but it always knows its place: It’s flavor text and does not interrupt the gameplay most of the time. During the course of Tabby helping the resistance, you will find and unlock four new tools to help you in your journey, as well as upgrading them and Tabby to make things easier. A lot of what I love about Kunai are related to those tools, because of how they update (sorry for the pun) the game when you unlock/upgrade them; some like the eponymous Kunai help you traverse the world, while others like the SMGs help with traversal but also add combat options. Like similar games, exploring the map is not something that will challenge you, but it will lead to tense moments, because of the decision to include save points around the map and exclude autosaves for most of the game; this will lead to situations where the next hit will sent you back 10 minutes and you’re trying to find the next save point. The exclusion of fast travel will make the game frustrating for some, but that is where the excellent traversal mechanics come in.
Even if there were fast travel options in Kunai, I don’t think I would use them; the map is small enough that traversing it using your tools and movement mechanics is not a chore, but a delight. There’s a real sense of speed and momentum in how you can use the Kunai to slingshot yourself around, the SMGs to hover over large gaps, the double jump to reach new heights, and other stuff which I don’t want to spoil here. Having said that, there is a moment before the end where I wished for fast travel because it would make getting back to where you need to be to progress less of a hassle, but that’s minor enough. Also, the map being relatively small does not mean it’s not jam-packed with stuff to find and secrets to uncover, which is why fast travel would absolutely be a bad choice to have; a lot of the fun is exploring and finding those secrets, especially as you get new tools and have new possibilities in each area.
By far, my favorite aspect of Kunai is the variety it provides; besides the standard ‘one hit one kill’ enemy type, each other enemy is a danger in their own ways and are extremely fun and engaging to deal with; from creative highlights like a praying samurai whose impervious to damage besides their own homing missiles that they aim at you, to time wizards that once they notice you will disappear and appear near you and hit you with AOE explosions. This variety makes each new area fascinating and exciting, but also makes returning to them with new tools engaging, in the long term. While all of these enemies are engaging and fun, the challenge is at the excellent bosses; there are only a few, but they are all great. They are fair, which means they telegraph their actions properly, they are a proper challenge, and all of them are beatable on the first try without receiving any damage, if you’re good enough.
There were a few frustrations along the way, though, mainly the way respawning works. It doesn’t take that long to respawn, but it always plays the same animation of Tabby being respawned on the last save point, before it allows you to move; during exploration that’s not a problem, but during a boss fight that may take you a dozen times to beat, that gets old real fast. A similar thing happens when finding a chest – it has to play that specific animation in its entirety before it allows you to get the item and move on. However, those are less a problem and more of a reason to notice the great animation work, especially for Tabby; his expressions are second to none, in terms of cuteness and endearing qualities, not only in opening chests, but also swinging his katana or flying through the air. Lastly, I can see how some elements of some of the boss fights may seem unfair (they certainly did to me), but with a little perseverance and taking short breaks from the game, I managed to figure out what the intended way to get through those encounters were, and managed to beat the game.
Kunai is just one of those games that won’t be revered because it does something unique or takes a huge leap forward; it’s a game that you’ve seen and played before, but the execution of what it wants to be and how it mixes each element together, is so excellent, that it doesn’t matter. It is still an excellent game that I highly recommend to anyone with an interest to action-platformers and Metroidvanias.