KUNAI Review: A Modern Take on Old School Fun

Classic components come together to form a stellar slashing platformer, with the titular kunai providing a particularly high note.

Will fictional future humans ever learn? From the looks of things, probably not. 

KUNAI, from Turtleblaze and The Arcade Crew, is set in a world where a powerful A.I. name Lemonkus has been developed by humans "trying... to make the world a better place."

As powerful A.I.s have a habit of doing, Lemonkus quickly determined that humans were a real drag on the functionality of earth. Consequently, it saw to the near-total eradication of those pesky living beings.

While robots now run the world, they aren't all on board with the A.I.'s plans, and with the help of a robot resistance, Tabby the tablet is restored and embued with the spirit of a martial arts warrior, tasked with taking down the evil artificial overlord and its robot army.

Armed with a sword that doubles as a battery charger that fills with each kill you make, you must explore the platform-friendly world to gather the tools and upgrades you need to save the day.

KUNAI Review: A Modern Take on Old School Fun

When you decide to name your game after a tool at players' disposal, you're laying a star on the game's walk of fame — for better or worse. Luckily, in this case, KUNAI is right on the money.

If you don't know what kunai are, you're not alone. Full disclosure, I did not know the game was named after the titular weapon until my character received them and I saw them named as such.

While kunai may not be widely known, if you've consumed any entertainment about ninja, or played games like Onimusha: Warlords or Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, you have probably seen kunai before.

They're the small blades with a loop at their hilt, which is often, including in KUNAI, attached to a rope to allow for throwing and retrieval.

In KUNAI, you receive two of the weapons, one to send off over your head in either direction. They aren't just for combat, though. You can dig into most walls and ceilings in order to whip yourself around the game's levels and reach otherwise inaccessible areas.

Often the kunai are required to platform across a room, but even when they're not, there's a good chance you'll still make use of them for one simple reason: they're really fun.

While the game's old-school style may not be able to deliver you the caliber of free-swinging found in something like Marvel's Spider-Man, it gets the absolute most out of its 2D setting. The fun only multiplies when you purchase the ability to use your kunai as bungees, pulling down and releasing to fly off through the air.

KUNAI may not be the first game of its type to give you a grappling-hook-style option, but it certainly does so with aplomb.

Respect Your Elders

One thing that's clear about KUNAI is that it was made by developers who have a love and appreciation for classic 2D platforming games. The fingerprints of prior generations are all over KUNAI from beginning to end.

Some of the elements are general, like the presence of ability-based gating made popular in Metroidvania-style games like Metroid and Castlevania. In others, it's a more direct sense of nostalgia, like when you finish off the first boss and find yourself platforming around an airship ala Super Mario Bros 3, complete with an auto-scrolling viewport that will do you in if you don't move fast enough.

Although there is nothing particularly groundbreaking waiting for you in KUNAI, that is not to say the end product is just a hodge-podge of mechanics past. By taking familiar elements and elegantly combining them, TurtleBlaze has created an excellent addition to the 2D-platforming catalog.

KUNAI Review — The Bottom Line

Pros

  • Once you master your kunai, flying around levels is incredibly fun
  • The controls are tight and responsive
  • The classic pixel-art style is beautifully rendered

Cons

  • Some of the backtracking required after reaching an objective is excessive
  • Boss quality is inconsistent, with some real standouts but others falling a bit flat

When you assess KUNAI on an element-by-element basis, two things are true. First, there is nothing you can point to that's executed flawlessly. Second, there is nothing you can point to that's executed poorly, either.

Metroidvania games remain a popular niche in the gaming community with good reason, and KUNAI is a worthwhile addition to the genre. It's easy to pick up and get going, but it provides enough escalation as you progress to keep you interested as you move from sector to sector, picking up new toys and perks along the way.

On occasion, rooms can blend together and navigation, particularly before you earn the ability to access your map, can be a bit confusing. Once you get the hang of whipping around from room to room, however, the game takes on a quick and enjoyable pace.

Whether you're a fan of Metroidvania style platformers or are just looking for a fun game that's easy to jump in and kill some time, KUNAI is an excellent option.

[Note: A copy of KUNAI was provided by The Arcade Crew for the purpose of this review.]

Our Rating
8
Classic components come together to form a stellar slashing platformer, with the titular kunai providing a particularly high note.

Contributor

Published Feb. 12th 2020

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