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KUNAI Review – It’s a Ninjavania, baby!

Juan over at SwitchWatchTV has gotten his hands on the awesome-looking metroidvania KUNAI. Oh, boy. I have had my eyes on this one for a while. I love me some metroidvania, so this is gonna be a no-brainer. But what did Juan think? Is KUNAI coming out knives flying? Or is it just another metroidvania? Let’s find out! Check out Juan’s video below, or you can continue downward to read it here on SwitchWatch.co.uk.

Welcome to SwitchWatch! I am Juan, and this is my KUNAI review on Nintendo Switch.

The Nintendo Switch is blessed with Metroidvania games! Our favorite being Hollow Knight, but there is always room for another for all of us here at Switchwatch. As long as it brings some fun gameplay to the table. Well, this grabbed my attention as soon as I saw the trailer, but is KUNAI worth your time and hard earned cash? Let’s get into this break-it-down and find out.

STORY

The story has been done many times, but it never gets old until it happens for real. I mean, AI will take over the world one day and destroy us, and that’s exactly what has happened here. Lemonkus is evil and has wiped out nearly all of humankind, and robots roam free across the world.

These little bots look angry with there red faces, and I don’t like them one bit. But we will get to that in a second. Onward with the story!

Here you control Tabby, who is a killer robot. Not only is this robot a bad arse, but it is infused with a human soul. And not just any old soul, but the soul of an ancient warrior. I was all in by this point and ready to go. The story grabbed me like my Mrs pulling the covers off me in the morning when I can’t get up for work. The name Tabby is a bit of tame name if I say so myself, but who cares. It’s a ninja bloody robot who is about to cause all kinds of mayhem, and it is all in your control as to how you go about it.

GAMEPLAY

I love games like this. The reason these games grab my attention is because I like to start a game as a character with limited skills and abilities. In fact, here you start the game with almost bugger all. You can single jump, and that’s about the extent of it. Explore a little bit and you pick up a katana and start swiping away like your life depended on it. The first thing I noticed is how tight the controls are, which is key in a metroidvania like this. The premise is a simple one; explore, kill, and avoid any nasty traps while doing it. Along the way, there will be the occasional mean boss to take you down.

What struck me was just how fun it was to tear the enemies apart. Swiping your sword madly sideways or upwards, firing off a nifty shuriken, or swinging your way on top of an enemy and swiping your sword through it till it’s in bits. Just feels very gratifying. The movement of Tabby also threw me. I was expecting it to move a little heavy about the 2d levels, but Tabby moves around like a ninja with the speed of a cat.

You will meet a bunch of friendlies along the way who will give you handy bits of information which makes the game flow along nicely. Something along the lines as you may want to head to the haunted factory as there is a nice weapon around there. Righty oh!

As you the hours pass by, you soon realize that this is not any old robot and this is not any ordinary soul infused into this bad boy. Soon you will be double jumping, grappling around the levels with your kana, which can be extended with the touch of ZL and ZR from each side, and there are dangerous platforming parts which you will need to navigate.

Like any good old metroidvania, new skills will open up new areas for you to explore, and each will present different challenges. What stood out to me is how each section is rather different in pacing and in what you need to achieve. For example, in the certain areas will need more exploration through jumping, swinging using your kunai while others will require quick reactions to avoid being crumpled by falling blocks and other nasty traps like saw blades and spikes. Those parts remind me of Super Meat Boy.

Enemies become tougher but your arsenal also becomes better, and as long as you collect fallen coins, you can upgrade through the WiFi connections which you will find in the spread out resistance bases.

I love how you can connect up and choose to upgrade say a magnet to collect coins close to you so you don’t have to run over to them each time. Or how each new addition to your arsenal has it’s own set of little upgrades. The katana sword has a hand power-up so you can hold the action button down and then when the enemy comes into focus a red circle highlights it and Tabby in an instant will move towards it slashing it to bits as long as you keep pressing Y. There are other cool imaginative additions too, like being able to point to guns down while shooting to create a bit of a Jet Pack effect. Super cool if I say so myself.

Even jumping feels really good in KUNAI. A light press will be a small jump and holding it down will be a longer jump. You can slide down walls and jump in the opposite direction. There really are loads of skills to master, and before you know it you will be jumping through levels slashing enemies and grappling from one place to another in what can seem like a nice smooth motion like Spiderman in 2D, only with a katana and some SMGs.

If enjoyed games like Katana Zero, Hollow Knight, and Dead Cells, then this has elements from all of those. There are save points, so getting from one to another will sometimes leave you fuming as some parts are a lot harder than others. Sometimes the balance between sections can jump up in difficulty very quickly leading to some difficulty spikes which some may find frustrating. For me, it was all part of the course and none of it felt unfair. Okay… maybe the bit on the battle cruiser was a bit naughty where you fall to your death if you miss a platform, but otherwise it was all good fun.

Those of you that don’t like to backtrack, this still has it applied and it would not be a metroidvania if there wasn’t some form of backtracking involved. It’s all part of exploring the map to the maximum. Those of you that like to 100% games, there are lots of hats to find which you can change while playing the game at any time. My current favorite was just wearing a pair of sunnies.

Bosses are also different and fun. I have to commend the developers for making the game have quite a bit of variety. Bosses are no different either. Some are easier than others, but all present a different challenge in which you need to figure out how to beat them. Once you beat each guardian, you will usually get something from the area which will increase your skills, like when you attain the shuriken and can start opening doors by hitting switches with it, and you can also use them to stun enemies from far away, giving you more options. There are more weapons which I will not spoil here for you.

I did come across a bug a couple of times which meant restarting the game. Sometimes the grappling hooks would not attach to the surface. There are differing surfaces where the hooks will not attach, which is part of the game, but I am talking about sections where it should work and all of a sudden stops working in that area. Restarting the game would fix the issue, but it was present so hoping a day 1 patch will fix this. We have made the developers aware.

AUDIO

The Audio in KUNAI is absolutely absorbing and bang on. It suits the game and the environments perfectly with the right pitch and tempos chosen to match the areas. A fantastic job for sure, and I was really pleased as it brings the game up another level. There are lots of 16-bit references here, which I am sure many of you are going to absolutely love. Sound effects too are great and even the voiced intro was nice to have.

See Also
Sisu Nintendo Switch Review

VISUALS & PERFORMANCE

I love the visuals here, even though I know they are not going to be for everyone. Each zone has a unique color palette which made each of the zones feel distinctive, but it’s the smooth buttery animations that steal the show. Tearing up the bots does not get old or boring and looks great with all the little effects on screen. There is a fallen city, a floating airship, and loads more places to explore on your travels and lots of little highlights.

Let’s talk about Tabby and the expressions on the face. It’s excellent when it flips from smiling to a lean mean fighting machine, and the expression of “I mean business right now” to match.

I also like the design of the bosses in KUNAI. When finding your guns for the first time, the boss you need to beat was one of the highlights for me. Mental blob was an absolute highlight beating it. The fluidity and performance in both docked and handheld was great. I know it should be the standard for an indie game, but I have been used to playing games like these and encountering slowdown. I am glad that I did not encounter any of that in KUNAI.

VALUE

You are looking at 5 to 7 hours dependent on your skill level and more to get all the collectables, so it’s not the longest Metroidvania out there but that’s not always the biggest sign of quality or value. The hours you will play are filled with quality, in my opinion, so there should be no worry while you are looking at paying $16.99 in the US, £15.29 in the UK, and 16,99 in Euros. It does not have any co-op or anything right now, but it does have a hidden time trial for those that love to speedrun, which should keep you occupied.

  • Story - 8/10
    8/10
  • Gameplay - 8/10
    8/10
  • Audio - 10/10
    10/10
  • Visuals & Performance - 8.5/10
    8.5/10
  • Value - 8/10
    8/10

Summary

I am often reminded by gems like these that you don’t need the best visuals in the world or the biggest budget for a game to be superb fun, and that’s why I love little gems like these. Games where I can lose 7 or so hours in a cool little world where I can slice and dice bad robots and shoot them to pieces for good measure, all while swinging around the levels like Spiderman but as a robot who is nimble and fast. It shouldn’t make sense, but it just does. KUNAI has a superb soundtrack, lots of fun gameplay, and it’s engrossing from start to finish. My only wish is that it was a longer game, but that’s the biggest complement I can give it. It is really awesome. 9/10

Overall
8.5/10
8.5/10

Pros

Ninja robot
Soundtrack
Playability

Cons

A few bugs

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