Movement is one of the most silently critical aspects of game design. A game can feature beautiful visuals and brilliant mechanics, but if it doesn’t feel good to control, then such achievements don’t amount to much. KUNAI takes this concept to heart. This new metroidvania from the Arcade Crew might not completely revolutionize its genre, but it sets itself apart in how incredibly satisfying it feels to control and how fluid it is to explore. Complete with excellent presentation and a charming personality, KUNAI is simple, charming, and feels good as heck to play.
Technology has gone too far in KUNAI. Reckless human experimentation has led to the creation of rogue A.I. and a robot uprising that threatens the fate of humanity itself, and it’s up to a sentient tablet named Tabby to set things right again and save the planet. Conveniently enough, Tabby is also equipped with a full arsenal of ninja powers that will help in this bold task. This might not be the most creative video game story ever told, but it does what it has to do: it provides a vestige of context for why a sentient tablet that makes goofy faces can use ninja moves to save humanity.
And it’s these ninja powers that make KUNAI feel so remarkable. Tabby begins the game effectively powerless, as is conventional for a metroidvania, but it’s not long before the game’s signature items come into play: the kunai. These hookshots can be used to cling onto almost any flat surface, letting you climb up walls, swing across caverns, and freely frolic up and down the world. They may be a single item, but they completely change the typical approach to exploration. They add a new dimension to traversing the world, letting you venture through each environment vertically as well as horizontally.
Most importantly, the kunai feel extremely intuitive to control. The left and right kunai are controlled with the shoulder buttons individually, and they automatically target the nearest available surface, letting you focus on exploration without having to bother with fiddly aiming controls. This applies to movement in general – Tabby feels fast and agile, but never excessively floaty. Platforming, action, and general movement feels smooth yet precise, creating a fluidly satisfying gameplay loop.
Perhaps it takes a little time to adjust to the speed of movement, but once you get the hang of it, KUNAI feels amazingly smooth to play. The kunai are only the start, too. There’s a handful of other items and abilities to obtain, all of which come together to make the movement even faster and feel even better. These include dashing, double jumping, throwing stars, and guns that can be used as makeshift jetpacks, among others. These new abilities are very evenly paced throughout the adventure as well, so just as soon as you get used to one item, a new one comes along and adds another element to exploration.
This variety of abilities can make combat as much of a highlight as platforming. With such a diverse move set of abilities, fighting the game’s many enemies becomes an exercise in speed and efficiency. Combat can become a ballet of bouncing off opponents, slashing projectiles back at them, and dashing through the air. Bosses are a special highlight, offering over the top battles with massive enemies that put your skills with your full arsenal to the test in spectacular fashion.
KUNAI might not seem revolutionary just by looking at it, but once you pick it up and play it, its metroidvania mastery is immediately clear.
KUNAI is certainly worth exploring as well. Its world is made up of several distinct regions that gradually become more interconnected as you expand your arsenal with more abilities. This setting is relatively small by metroidvania standards, yet it is nonetheless packed with secrets to uncover in every corner, ensuring that its roughly ten-hour runtime is constantly filled with discovery. Besides items and health upgrades, the game’s primary collectible items are hats for Tabby to wear. if this heroic tablet didn’t already look silly enough with his hammy facial expressions, then these hats definitely take him over the top. However, searching for these collectibles can be a hassle due to the lack of any way to fast travel around the world. This is especially tedious towards the end of the game, when backtracking becomes much more of a necessity.
The whole game is a treat to look at. KUNAI adopts a distinct visual style that might seem more reminiscent to Game Boy titles due to its washed-out colors and chunky, pixelated graphics. Most environments are colored in muted whites, grays, and tans, with occasional splashes of bright red and blue to set things apart. The robotic characters that inhabit this world are similarly charming, but Tabby absolutely wins when it comes to charm, with huge and silly facial expressions for most actions, whether it be defeating an enemy or discovering treasure. Tabby’s gaping mouth and glittering eyes upon discovering new items or hats are my particular favorite.
KUNAI is one of those games that might not seem all that revolutionary just by looking at it, but once you pick it up and play it, its metroidvania mastery is immediately clear. It gives you a full arsenal of abilities to make every movement through its action-packed world feel fluid and satisfying. Wrapping this excellent gameplay loop in a charming style and beautiful presentation, KUNAI is absolutely worth keeping a tab on.