We assume that the writer of Kunai is not a fan of the games that can be defined as "metroidvania". Yes, in my career as a gamer I have faced the most varied adventures related to the genre, but lately, especially in the last couple of years, the charm of this type of experience has not thrilled me as it once did. Just think that I will probably have the indelible shame of having started, without ever ending it, Hollow Knight. There are in fact some mechanics in this typology of works that do not go well with my current videogame orientation. Continuing in the review you will also understand the reason for this verbose, how necessary, premise.
Kunai is a title developed by a group of three boys, known together as Turtle Blaze. Released on February 6 on Steam and Nintendo Switch, it had the spotlight on itself thanks to Nindies Showcase organized last month by the Japanese company based in Kyoto.
What is Kunai about? What do we care!
The story told in Kunai puts the gamer in the shoes of Tabby, a robotic being whose face is reminiscent of the shapes of a tablet. Our alter-ego, dormant throughout the narrative incipit, is activated by robotic resistance to fight the war against the army of bad computers. Here, to describe it in this way the story might seem a little simpleton, e in fact it is: we find ourselves in a post apocalyptic setting in which artificial intelligence, taking over, completely exterminated the human race; in this scenario, however, there are some cybernetic beings endowed with a certain conscience and therefore fighting for liberation from evil forces. Our job is therefore to take on the role of the hero, which generally means doing everything yourself.
All that Kunai loses from the narrative point of view, but gains in style. Generally the settings and the color palette used are really nice, but it is some details, such as the graphic effects during the fights and the small semi-animated intermezzo scenes between a clash and the other, to guarantee a truly immersive remarkable at work in its completeness. Character design turns out to be captivating both as regards the protagonist and his allies, and for the army of hostile computers. The variety of common enemies is satisfactory, but it is when bosses come on the scene that the artistic direction adopted by the developers manages to emerge in all its splendor. Every single boss is in fact different from the others in every detail, both in terms of appearance and in terms of mechanics.
On balance, therefore, the disappointing impact of the presentation of the game, uninspired and clearly alone an excuse to lead the hands, is completely neutralized already after a few minutes inside the game world, varied and always characteristic, created by the guys from Turtle Blaze.
Take control of Tabby was a really pleasant experience. In itself, the movement and jumping system is not particularly responsive and precise. Indeed, at least initially you may have difficulty facing particularly difficult jumps. The game changes its face when we are given the opportunity to use the tools of the trade already after a few minutes: i kunai precisely. Within the game our kunai are not used as a weapon, but as gods grapples. Thanks to this design choice, our character moves around the map as if he were able to shoot cobwebs. Except on some walls, specially marked by a glossy texture, Tabby is able to swing on any surface, making moving fast, technical and very fun. The movement system also goes hand in hand with an effective combat system, although not very layered.
Initially the player has a simple one katana, which acts as a primary weapon throughout the adventure. All subsequent equipment must also be added to this tool, which also act as actual power up for the possibilities to explore the game world. The submachine guns, for example, in addition to being really powerful weapons (even if not very precise) allow us to float in the air for the duration of the magazine, thanks to the recoil obtained by shooting towards the feet of our protagonist. This mechanic therefore allows us to overcome spaces that are too large to be covered with a simple double jump. As easily understood by the reader, the metroidvania theme it is highlighted thanks to this equipment structure with a dual combat / exploration function. Almost every location designed by the creators of the game puts a player in the hands of the player new function of our Tabby by obtaining new tools. Thanks to them you are therefore able to overcome a certain obstacle that does not allow the continuation of the adventure.
Despite the definition and description within which Kunai has been represented up to this point, the game turns out to be atypical in the canons of its kind. At the expense of a sufficiently large world there is a clear linearity in the exploration of the environments and a backtracking which, even if present, does not encourage the player to retrace his steps to explore and find secrets or optional collectibles. To this must also be added the presence of a game map available really detailed: so detailed as to ensure that the situations in which the player finds himself lost and without a precise goal, typical scenario of the titles of this mold, can be counted on the fingertips. All this as a whole entails yes Kunai it finds itself to be an experience that is not purely classic in terms of its type of belonging, but also decidedly more accessible, faster and less demanding.
Adding a little pepper are the boss fights. It is probably thelook better managed of all production: each bossfight turns out to be not only really different from the previous ones as already anticipated, but also well balanced compared to the player's learning curve. Some of the final clashes are indeed very difficult, while the first ones act almost as tutorials. To this perfect balance is added a masterful timing of the battles: some are tactically placed to make the user learn the best use of the possibilities of a new instrument, others are instead able to dampen the rhythms of an exploration stretched for too long time or, on the contrary, represent the culmination of a climb (not too figured in a specific case) towards the conclusion of a particularly difficult and intricate environment.
Technically the game runs smoothly for all the approximately 6/7 hours necessary to complete the story without wasting too much time in unnecessary exploration. There Steam version di Kunai it has proved stable and able to manage even the most agitated situations in an excellent way. The action is always shown clearly and cleanly in the image. We are obviously talking about an independent production with a very low budget: do not expect therefore to find yourself in front of who knows which menu of the graphic settings. Therefore, net of an artistic and stylistic direction clearly above the average, the not particularly detailed graphic sector reaches sufficiency thanks to the optimization work found during our test.
Same speech for the sound composition, which accompanies the player with never annoying and easily recognizable tunes. The music is also capable of giving a certain sense of pathos during the most important passages within the, albeit simple, narrative offered by the developers.
Finally mention for i collectable, the only real reason for exploration outside the tracks prepared by the creators of the game. Tabby can be customized with a whole series of objects applicable to his face. Do not expect that the customization possibilities are particularly wide, but I assure you that facing a fearsome enemy equipped with the glasses of the neighborhood zarro has been able to wrest a few smiles from myself. In addition, it should also be highlighted how the animations, facial and non-facial, of our protagonist always manage to be spot-on compared to what happens on the screen and, above all, visually successful.
Generally speaking, Kunai is a sufficient title. However, I believe that the ultimate goal that is undertaken with a review is to be able to recommend (or advise against depending on the case) a specific product to a type of reference user. So who is the right player and potential buyer of a similar title?
The answer is very simple: io.
At the beginning of this reading I made a premise as clear as it is stony. I can't complete any mold title metroidvaniesco in this moment of my life. Tackling the game in question was a very positive experience for me. Almost natural, I would add; therefore very far from the concept of striving to complete a job entrusted.
Kunai offers nothing new for those who have been chewing on the genre for many years. There are alternatives on the market that are better finished, deeper in their playability or simply more beautiful to look at. The work of these three boys, however, made it possible to play this type of video game without having to necessarily lose in tens of hours to achieve a certain goal or to be called to use all the gray matter available to get out of a maze of tunnels and dead ends. Kunai it is linear without giving the sensation of being it; it is short but very intense.
Kunai is the title designed and developed for those who do not have the time and desire to devote themselves to the commitment that the genre to which it usually belongs but which, at the same time, they feel extremely need of.