Keen: One Girl Army - Review of Cat Nigiri's sliding puzzle game

Who I am
Aina Martin
Author and references

Let's take an oriental setting with strong references to aesthetics synthwave, of the super-deformed characters, a young girl expert in martial arts and checkerboard levels full of enemies to defeat, we season it all with environmental puzzles and we serve with a turn-based combat system: there you have it Keen: One Girl Army, the intriguing sliding puzzle game developed by Cat Nigiri (Scrash, Necrosphere) and distributed by Phoenixx Inc. and 2P Games on both Nintendo Switch and PC (as in the case of the version under review) via Steam. In short, we are talking about a title that is at least peculiar and after diving into its strange world, we are now ready to give you our final response about it.

Kim against everyone

Kim, an 8 year old girl with a gothic lolita, lives in his small village with Gramma, his grandmother, who heads a dojo martial arts that entrusts her with a powerful blade handed down from generation to generation. With the help of this weapon, Kim will face one mysterious organization with shady ends who threatens to destroy his village with hordes of zombies and robots. So Kim, after a training / tutorial under the expert guidance of her grandmother, leaves her village (with the uninspired name of Village) to defeat enemies, level after level.

The game comes as one very dynamic sliding puzzle game, but not frantic: in the various levels we will find ourselves controlling Kim using only the arrow keys on the keyboard and a few other keys, a feature that makes Keen: One Girl Army very comfortable to play with one hand, on checkerboard backdrops reminiscent of classic RPGs. Whenever Kim advances, the enemies will also move and prepare their attacks; unlike games like Crypt of the NecroDancer, with which it is impossible not to notice the similarity, the rhythm game component is absent. This means that pausing to reflect on the moves is not penalized, indeed, it is awarded by a achievement system which includes 3 different objectives in each level, including the completion of the same without taking damage. It will be up to the player to choose whether to play spontaneously or try to meticulously meet each requirement!

In addition to the end-of-level achievements, Keen: One Girl Army is packed with unlockables and secret areas. In the various stages, Kim will collect gods token which will serve to unlock sanctuaries where, upon completion, the particular child will learn new ones special moves for use during fights. In addition, although it is not essential to advancement in the game, exploration is rewarded with hidden areas to be discovered containing special items. Given the nature of a puzzle game, an extra word must be spent on level design: the levels appear as smooth and intuitive in most cases, which is facilitated by the presence of a map of all environments which will be particularly useful in the presence of environmental puzzles (doors to open, levers and buttons, boulders to push ...), making backtracking easier.

With its 7-8 hours of longevity, Keen: One Girl Army is a overall simple game, with a gentle curve of difficulty that will allow the player to pass the levels with ease (except for some points that should not be underestimated). Nonetheless, the aforementioned end-of-level goals are anything but simple to achieve, so be prepared to do the same stage over and over again to get a perfect score. Another element that extends the longevity of the game is the presence of a large number of achievement also on Steam, which is not too common for an indie title.

An Orient with a synthwave aftertaste

Temples, zen gardens it's a cat in the shape of nigiri (obvious easter egg illustrating the name of the production company); the world of Keen: One Girl Army remarkably recalls the East from the very first minutes of the game, both in the sounds and in the settings. Advancing with the story, the settings reminiscent of the traditional and rural imaginary of China and Japan are united with arrogance metropolis, neon, synthwave graphics and corporate settings, while the column veers towards electronic and urban sounds. Even the character designs of the characters wink at Japanese animation, both in the super-deformed chibi than in the aspect of the antagonists that often recalls the world of the samurai, in an overall result that is promoted in its simplicity.

The story of Keen: One Girl Army is certainly not the strong point of the game: despite the graphically well-characterized characters, the plot and interactions are negligible and decidedly uninspired. While it is true that in a puzzle game the narration is not the catalyst for the attention of the players, it must also be recognized that the care of the names, of the dialogues and of the lore is what makes a title memorable. Unfortunately, between characters and places that practically have no name (just think of Gramma and Village), uninvolving dialogues and with some spelling smears, Keen: One Girl Army just fails to shine for its narrative sector. Wanting to find the positive side of this deficiency, theabsence of localization in Spanish in this way it becomes a completely circumventable disadvantage. We remind you that the game is now available on Steam at the price of € 13,29 and on the Nintendo Switch eShop a € 13,99.

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