Indie games have gained traction in the past decade or so with the availability of online and handheld platforms. This also highlighted a lot of beloved indie games in recent years that pushed and experimented on what gaming could be. For Cat Nigiri, they breathed life into the sliding puzzle genre with their new tactical, turn-based game, Keen: One Girl Army.
Cat Nigiri has been developing mobile games since 2012. They’ve expanded their reach with Necrosphere initially released on Steam, and then on the PS4, PSVita, and Nintendo Switch. Keen: One Girl Army is their newest game which first got released on Steam, and recently on the Nintendo Switch. I used the Switch Lite to try this game out, so let’s get to it.
Inheriting roles and the world outside
Everybody has experienced a rebellious stage at one point in their life. In Keen: One Girl Army, our very young character, Kim, and her rebellious nature may just save her village. Under her Gramma’s tutelage, she inherits the role of becoming the village warrior that’s been passed down to each woman in their lineage, except her absent mother. Eventually, the story takes us out of the village with Kim unraveling an evil corporation’s plan of world domination and its connection to her family.
The game doesn’t rely heavily on the story, but every so often, you’ll find a room with glowing pink squares. If you happen to land on those and interact with them, you can get more story information. Some of these information boxes are the game’s way of being self-reflexive about itself, hinting that Kim’s world is just a matrix or a game simulation. It’s not groundbreaking nor does it affect the story, but it is amusing to see.
Keen: One Girl Army also introduces us to other underlying commentaries about reality through enemies like an evil boss and a cult leader. While some of these funny moments do play a role in this story, some of it gets lost along the way. At least the overall plot doesn’t lose sight of Kim’s goal of finding out what’s causing the trouble and finding her mother.
Slash and dash your way through
Kim’s character is pretty much straightforward and hasty, which is reflective of her movements (with the help of her rollerblades). You can only move her horizontally or vertically from one end to the next. This is also how she attacks, slashing through enemies in her line of sight.
When you start the game, she will only have the basic slash and cross attacks which will activate depending on where the enemy is located. While it’s quite possible to finish the game with just these skills, it might get harder for you as the game progresses.
However, you can get more skills if you solve the puzzles in the secret shrines hidden across the map. They’re mostly easy to find but some need a bit of problem-solving to reach them. To access the shrines, you’ll also need a number of Orbytes that are obtainable as you complete each stage and clear certain tasks. This also adds a bit of replayability to the game especially if you’re a completionist.
Every move counts
Keen: One Girl Army’s charm lies in the puzzles and the satisfaction in solving them. There are a total of 10 stages to complete, each with several rooms to solve, that take Kim to underground sea labs, sewers, crypts, and the like. Each room is a puzzle that’s set up like a chessboard. Some areas will require you to check the stage’s map and access other rooms just to solve a specific area.
The puzzles vary in difficulty and can get you trapped. While there are checkpoints around the area, some are far apart from each other and it can get very frustrating if you get yourself stuck in the middle.
Aside from that, you’ll need to consider enemies while solving a room. The enemies encountered along the way range from mindless minions you can kill with one hit to ghosts that need more than a simple slash attack. They will always take one step towards you after every move you make unless you do damage to them. It may seem like an easy slash-and-dash game, but there’s more strategy needed than just zooming across the room. If you’re not careful, you may just find yourself in checkmate.
Thankfully, this is a turn-based strategy game and there is no time limit. This gives you the option to take your sweet time in strategizing your next move. It’s also good to note that you can complete each room unscathed.
A modern take on a classic genre
It’s easy to see where Cat Nigiri drew inspiration from to create Keen: One Girl Army. From the get-go, you’ll notice its Asian influence from the world’s setting all way to Kim’s character design. Even the dynamic between Kim and her Gramma at the beginning of the game is relatable to any Asian out there, including me.
Keen: One Girl Army is also reminiscent of classic puzzle action games. While it holds a nostalgic element to it, the game updates the genre with its design and gameplay. The music also plays a part in this as it transitions from traditional Japanese instruments to a jazzy, electronic tune when Kim moves from the village to the city.
While the story isn’t particularly memorable, Keen: One Girl Army is a fresh take on the sliding puzzle genre that’s worth playing especially if you love solving puzzles. The mechanics are simple enough to follow and the puzzles will challenge you to be more tactical in your choices. Keen: One Girl Army takes around 6 hours complete and is currently on Steam and Nintendo Switch for around $14.
YouTube: Keen: One Girl Army [Trailer + Review]
Photo credits: The images used have been taken by the author for TechAcute.