KUNAI Review

Have you ever wanted to play as the killer robots you so often face in other action sci-fi videogames? Imagine you could be that robot; shiny, sleek and ready to take back his home planet. You play as Tabby, the adorable bot with an iPad for a head—and he isn’t just any old tablet, my man Tabz was infused with the soul of a Ninja, making him a ruthless killer yet programmed to also be as cute as a button.

Tabby’s enthusiasm is infectious.

The world is ending, yada yada, when do I get to be a badass ninja?

The game begins with a cryptic narrative styled cutscene with the only fully voiced character, a scientist named Dr. Lemonkus, who hopes to save Earth from its biggest threat yet, humanity itself. She accomplishes her task by creating AI robots to help reverse the damage we’ve done to the planet. Her downfall was creating a Sentient AI in her own image, Lemonkus the AI, which decides that the only way to save planet Earth is to wipe out humanity. This led to the robot uprising that we see up until today, and you are summoned by the resistance army to save the planet in the only way you know how; SLICE ‘EM AND DICE ‘EM BABY.

The game is very light on lore, albeit on purpose to quickly get you in on the action. Despite being light-handed on exposition, I found the setting very interesting. You have to piece together what happens through very small scraps of info typically found through NPC dialogue or by deciphering the environmental storytelling crafted through the multiple maps and cities you traverse through. It’s hard to determine if humanity was completely wiped out, but for the game itself this doesn’t matter at all. iPad-man and his quirky band of outdated Macintosh robots have more important issues to attend to, like kicking ass and spending bitcoin on firmware upgrades.

It’s like Spiderman with Guns

Our little robot seems to be confused whether he’s a ninja or a samurai, so he decides to be a ninja samurai, allowing him access to an arsenal of Japanese themed weapons. As a ninja samurai, it’s only mandatory that your main weapon is a Katana made of the rarest Nippon steel. It’s lightning fast and Tabby seems to be smart enough to swing in all four directions, a rarity for retro platformers.

The real meat of this game is the movement system, and thankfully the game starts you with the best tool in the game, the titular Kunai. Still in the tutorial area, you’re given dual kunais which work as hookshots that can grab onto almost any ceiling and swiftly pull you through the air. Your movement speed depends on the momentum you can gain through smooth swings. Using your katana’s downward slash, there is a myriad of boxes and enemies to bounce off of so you can glide through an area without ever touching the ground.

The fluidity of the kunai system is one that surprised me and it becomes incredibly fun once you start to grasp the capabilities and range of the system. Combine that with the movement upgrades that you can buy through WiFi routers scattered across the maps and you’ll soon feel like a certified ninja samurai.

16-bit goodness

The artstyle is minimalist and uses a limited color palette which complements the game’s level design, as they tend to have long winding corridors that you often fly through quickly. Every area had its own specific color theme which really stood out once you transitioned between areas. Along with a retro inspired soundtrack, it was always aesthetically pleasing to explore a new area and try to find its secrets.

Is this why humanity was wiped out?

My favourite area was Robopolis, which is one of the few cities still teeming with life. There are dozens of unique NPCs scattered around the inner city, just trying to go about their lives by going to places like pizza shops and robomaid cafés.

It’s one of the few areas where you gain a lot of insight into the universe that is Kunai. There are giant skyscrapers for the rich while the poor reside in the slums or parks. This raises the question of whether only the upper elite can afford equipment similar to Tabby, as there is no way to get around these huge buildings without using the Kunai. There’s also a police force that has no qualms taking advantage of its helpless citizens by trying to bait them into getting arrested.

You also have the flying fortress levels that are directly inspired from Super Mario Brothers 3 and nobody can tell me otherwise. It even has the autoscrolling maps that force you to move at a certain pace that will otherwise kill you. These maps were some of my favorites and were a blast to navigate around, highlighting the game’s core design of making movement as enjoyable as possible for the player.

Hats Sustain Me

When you’re not too busy killing enemies and trying to upgrade your weapons, you’ll be spending a lot of time exploring these huge levels in hopes of finding better fashion for little Tabby. Of course, you can’t be taking on the world looking like a generic base model iPad, that’d be embarrassing. Fly in style with a top hat, cool shades or Raditz’ scouter. These hats are a neat little treats that reward you for taking the time to check every nook and cranny in a level.

All in all, Kunai is a very enjoyable movement based action platformer that has you rocket jumping, slingshotting and hookshotting your way through each level. The game rewards you with fluid and fast movement as long as you are willing to master the myriad of weapons it gives you. Just beware of the final boss: it feels like he teleported from a different game, because the ramp up in difficulty is mind boggling.

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