Keen: One Girl Army – Review
Follow Genre: Puzzle game
Developer: Cat Nigiri
Publisher: Phoenixx Inc, 2P Games
Platform: Switch, PC
Tested on: Switch

Keen: One Girl Army – Review

Site Score
7.0
Good: Cleverly designed puzzles
Bad: Animations are very basic
User Score
8.8
(5 votes)
Click to vote
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Rating: 8.8/10 (5 votes cast)

With Keen: One Girl Army, developer Cat Nigiri steps out of their comfort zone once again to deliver their second non-mobile title. The neon-pink logo and key art make the game stand out but is Keen worth a closer look or is it a matter of style over substance?

Story

Keen is the story of Kim, a young girl armed with skates and a blade, who hails from a long line of strong female warriors. When Kim’s island home is threatened by the expansion efforts of an evil corporation, Kim must take up arms and save the day. With the guidance of her grandmother, affectionately known as GRAMMA, Kim stands up against the corporation and its minions. The simple but classic premise is presented through dialogue-based exposition, but it works surprisingly well. Kim stands out as a girl with a cynical attitude, and although she’s the main focus, there’s lots of charm to be found with the cast of quirky characters that she encounters as well. It’s a cute little story with plenty of heart, and things get spiritual along the way but it’s all quite light-hearted and tongue-in-cheek. 

Graphics

Developer Cat Nigiri has a history of bringing mobile games to the public, and although Keen isn’t available on mobile platforms (unless you count the Switch as one), it still very much looks like a mobile game, with thick outlines, limited character animation and bright colors. That’s not to say that it looks bad. While your mileage may vary when it comes to the chibi-esque art style, everything looks slick and tight, and the character designs, even for the generic enemies, have an appealing charm to them. The limited animation is a bit disappointing, given the action-based nature of the game. Moving Kim around the puzzle rooms is especially jarring, as she slides in a single direction without making any skating motions. Additionally, the story scenes lack animation as well, presented as talking heads with text-based dialogue, so while the art style itself is appealing, we feel like more could have been done to bring everything to life and feel less copied and pasted. Idle animations could have gone a long way here. 

Sound

The game’s soundtrack combines modern beats with traditional Asian sounds. It ends up sounding a bit cliché, but it fits the game’s theme and setting. One thing we did notice is that the music has the tendency to just cut away at certain times. While these cuts were clearly intentional, it did seem a bit abrupt. As for the rest of the game’s soundscape, most of the sounds are as generic as they come. The enemy growls, the swishing sounds of Kim’s skates and even Kim’s own grunts sound like they came straight from a stock sound database. 

Gameplay

The title and appearance may have you expecting a fast-paced combat-focused title, but Keen does not fit that mold at all. Instead, Cat Nigiri is offering us a cleverly disguised slide puzzle game. Don’t get us wrong, there’s still lots of enemies to be slain here, but the game actually encourages pacing yourself and thinking ahead rather than rushing into the hordes of zombies and robots that populate the many stages. Your goal is to guide Kim through a series of slide puzzles. Pushing a directional button will make Kim move in that direction until she collides with an object. Enemies’ movement is based on the way Kim moves. They’ll always move towards Kim, although at the much slower pace of a single square. This allows you to estimate where enemies will end up at the end of your own move. Your aim is to slay all the enemies, either by moving through them or ending up next to them. If an enemy ends its move next to you, however, they will attack you instead. Each stage can be played without taking any wounds, but that task often involves memorizing the exact pattern that you’ll need to skate. Given the size of the levels, that all involve multiple interconnected rooms, and the scarcity of save points, you’ll often find yourself taking one or two wounds in order to clear a room much quicker. 

The puzzles are complicated enough to keep you engaged and varied enough to ensure the game doesn’t get boring after prolonged sessions. Apart from enemy-filled rooms and boss battles, there were rooms that involved sliding blocks in order to create new pathways, hitting switches in a particular order and rooms that required you to get keys from other rooms in order to progress. We particularly enjoyed how the puzzle rooms were connected. While these were standalone for the most part, sometimes we’d encounter an item or door that we couldn’t reach, and we’d have to move through other puzzle rooms in order to reach a new entry point in an old room, allowing us to obtain the item or enter the door that we had our eyes on. Thanks to an elegant map screen, the presence of multiple rooms was never an issue either, as we were able to figure out our whereabouts at the press of a button. 

The lack of checkpoints, especially later in the game was a bit of a bother, as many of the later levels can be quite tricky to figure out, and will require lots of retries. Even if you realize you screwed up, you cannot undo and reload the existing screen, but will have to restart from your last cleared checkpoint instead. This can be frustrating, as there are often quite a few puzzles between save points, and with no manual save option, you’ll find yourself replaying several level sections multiple times as you attempt to memorize the correct pattern to clear an enemy filled room without taking damage. 


Conclusion
There’s a lot to like about Keen, even if it doesn’t really revolutionize the puzzle genre. The puzzle rooms are well crafted, and although the story isn’t the most original, there are a few laughs to be had with the quirky cast. The lack of fleshed-out animation, especially during story scenes does lessen the appeal of the game, making it feel cheaper than it should be, but overall, Keen is well worth a look.

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Rating: 8.8/10 (5 votes cast)
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Keen: One Girl Army - Review, 8.8 out of 10 based on 5 ratings
Sebastiaan Raats
Sebastiaan Raats


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