If you had told me that I’d eventually find myself playing a game where the star of the show was a tablet (one that looks like an iPad at that), I would have laughed at you and quickly shooed you away. However, that’s exactly what you’ll find when you first fire up Kunai by The Arcade Crew. Don’t let the cutesy look fool you, or you’ll miss out on some damned good 2D hack and slash/Metroidvania action.

Game Name: Kunai
Platform(s):  PC (reviewed), Switch
Publisher(s): The Arcade Crew
Developer(s): TurtleBlaze
Release Date: February 6th, 2020
Price: $16.99

I’ll spare you the story as it ultimately fades in the background, while the gameplay takes hold of you. It doesn’t matter what you end up doing, as everything pretty much left a smile on my face. Yes, the gameplay is king in Kunai, and yet so simple. As the game starts by having you being freed from your captivity, you eventually stumble across a projectile deflecting, health stealing katana along the way and are directed to the robotic resistance. From there you’re following orders to progress the story.

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Now I know what you’re thinking, I have a katana but the name of the game is Kunai, where does that fit in? Well, you find those early on into the game and they are key to pretty much everything. Once you have those, you’re able to use them to cling to almost any surface. Climbing up walls (or descending), or hanging from ceilings as they have a rope attached to them. With the Kunai in hand, this turns into a 2D Spider-Man game. I’ve found myself doing nothing but swinging around levels and seeing what stylish things I could do with the kunai.

Kunai review screenshot-02

I did mention that you have a katana that can deflect projectiles, which comes in handy more than you think it would. You can also use it for standard attacks, downward thrusting attacks (think Shovel Knight) or even charge attacks once you gain the ability. Or dispatch some justice with a pair of SMG’s, or blow stuff up with a rocket launcher that you can also use to rocket jump with. Yes, this game has a lot of elements borrowed from other games.

The game is rather cute as well and I came away impressed with how much charm that TurtleBlaze as able to cram into the game. I especially like how if you pressed down, Tabby would crouch and display a cat face initially before looking down. Or how he’d stick out his tongue while you’re swinging through the air. Tabby is a silly tablet, but I love him so. But it’s not just him as a number of NPCs that help you along the way all have a sort of comedic element to them.

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Kunai review - aw he's so cute

Though cute, this game is anything but a cakewalk. Between the various amounts of amazing enemies, the platforming elements and several sections where you’ll have to pull off some serious wall-climbing skills. Kunai will provide plenty of challenges and even frustration. I’ve found myself a few times ready to toss my controller. Especially after encountering one specific enemy where most of your weapons don’t even phase it. That bugger gave me a run for my digital currency. The bosses are also tricky the first few times, with some having different phases to their attacks, getting faster or both. Though their patterns are easy enough to figure out and I found myself mastering them fairly quickly.

Along the way you’ll be able to upgrade Tabby, but once if you’re near a conveniently placed router thanks to the good old NPC, Earl. I swear there’s a joke in there somewhere, I just don’t understand it. Anyway, since you’re a tablet, the upgrading is handled similar to downloading an app from Apple’s iTunes. As long as you have the currency, you can pick up several upgrades that will enhance your abilities and weapons. Though I will add that some upgrades were completely useless, while others were very helpful. Then there’s the self-healing upgrade or what I call easy mode upgrade. With that, you’ll regain health very slowly, but it does help you out of binds.

This being a Metroidvania-styled game, there is the traditional backtracking, as well as puzzling solving included. That being said, many of the puzzles were easy enough to solve, and I didn’t mind the backtracking. More than likely due to my affinity with the genre and your experience may vary.

Kunai review screenshot-03

I know the whole 8/16-bit retro craze isn’t for everyone, but for myself I thoroughly enjoyed it. The art style fits the game, as the graphics give way to a treasure trove of gameplay. Visually, it looks as if you were playing on one of the old-school Gameboy. Most of the palette consists of muffled colors, with touches of bright colors here and there. It sounds weird, but it looks great in action. The sounds are also done well, and the retro soundtrack never gets tiresome. I hope a soundtrack for the game gets released, this is good stuff.

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There’s also a bunch of secrets and hidden areas through the game, waiting for you to find them. Including hats, that do nothing other than making you look silly. So far I’ve found about 16 of the available 34. If you love hats, you may want to try for them all. I even happened across a church full or devotees that housed a speed run a section that had some trying all sorts of ways to beat it. Thankfully after a few tries, I was able to best it and was rewarded with yet another hat. Score!

I do have mention that there were a few times that I managed to glitch the game out. Which placed me behind the background of the game and left me stuck there. The only way to get around this was to restart. Thankfully I’ve only managed to do this twice and it was only after using the homing attack against multiple enemies.

As I was playing on the PC, there was no way to rebind my keys or buttons. That being said, I found the layout just fine, though I’m used to having the option of rebinding keys. Something that Turtleblaze may want to think about in any possible upcoming updates to the game.

You can beat the game in about 4-5 hours, it’s not very long.  Adding to that, once you’ve beaten the game the ride is over and there’s the lack of a new game mode. That said, there isn’t a rule for every enjoyable game possessing a new game mode but I would have appreciated one. Especially since I had acquired a bunch of new abilities and weapons that I would have to smack down some enemies that me a hard time originally. The only thing that will keep you playing after the credits roll is trying to track down all those hats.  Still, despite that, I highly recommended checking out Kunai if you enjoy Metroidvania titles or other NES games such as Ninja Gaiden or even more recent 8/16-bit retro homages such as Ori and the Blind Forest or Shovel Knight.

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Kunai is only available on the PC and Switch when it releases on February 6th, 2020. Though I’m hoping that Kunai gets ported to the PS4 and Xbox One in the future. Maybe if the sales turn out alright, so buy this game!

Review Disclosure Statement: Kunai was provided to us for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.

Affiliate Link Disclosure: One or more of the links above contain affiliate links, which means at no additional cost to you, we may receive a commission should you click through and purchase the item.

Summary

Kunai is a cutesy Metroidvania title with lots of action, enjoyable gameplay and is a hell of a fun time. Sadly, the game ends way too soon, as I found myself lusting for more. A solid attempt by Turtleblaze and I’ll be looking forward to their next project.

Pros

  • Enjoyable gameplay
  • Loving the retro-gaming vibe
  • Soundtrack is pleasing
  • Swinging across levels is a blast

Cons

  • The game ends too soon
  • The occasional bug that forced me to start the game
  • Unable to rebind keys or buttons
  • Not available on PS4 or Xbox One
Overall
4.5

About The Author

Keith Mitchell
Editor-in-chief and all-around good guy!

Keith Mitchell is the Founder and Editor in Chief of The Outerhaven. A grizzled IT professional during the day, but a passionate lover of video games after his 9-5 grind. Loves playing the Dark Souls series and has been gaming since he was 6 years old. Yes, I'm a black guy!