Puzzle games are a natural fit for portables. Tetris became the gaming juggernaut it is because it came bundled with the GameBoy in 1989, bringing its fantastic block sliding to the palms of millions of players around the world. Thirty years in, that concept is still ever fresh as even cell phones are home to great titles, not to mention of course Nintendo’s own portable wonder, the Switch.
Brazilian studio Cat Nigiri’s Keen: One Girl Army is yet another fine addition to that library, a sliding puzzler that combines clever level design with a very colorful and cute presentation. As rollerblading, sword-wielding Kim, a descendant in a long line of female warriors, you end up stranded and are forced to leave the safety of your village in order to save the world from an undead and robotic invasion led by an evil organization.
Keen’s basic gameplay reminds me of a puzzle game that I loved years ago called Slayaway Camp where you control all manner of 1980s slasher movie villains as they take out countless victims as they slide around a grind trying to corner their prey. Here, though, Kim has to contend with enemies that fight back if they happen to land on an adjacent square, which also works in her favor if she’s the one who gets the drop in.
Her strongest attack, however, is the one where she slides from one end of the board to the other (considering there are no obstacles along the way) hitting anything in her way, which is enough to take out most non-shielded enemy types. Enemies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and there are even bosses you have to face every now and then who throw in an extra layer of challenge just by having more health and gimmicks to their encounters.
The level design is one of this game’s strongest suits, starting out with very simple screens that can easily be beaten in a handful of moves, things quickly get trickier as you’re forced to deal with fight puzzles that can trap you in if you’re not careful. Navigating around surprisingly tricky map layouts with numerous interconnected rooms is also a part of the game, requiring you to figure out exactly how to slide into the correct exit with the corners and obstructions you have at your disposal. It’s a good thing that there’s a map you can pull up at any time in order to keep track of where you’ve been to and where to go.
It’s also neat that Keen: One Girl Army manages to cram a little story in, and for as simple as it is, it provides the game with some added personality. The self-referential humor is particularly funny and well thought out, so be sure to talk to NPCs when you get the chance. Kim’s written and drawn as a sassy little girl, and even though there’s not much to her outside of the exchanges she has during dialog, it’s enough to make her likeable. Thanks to the cool visual style that Cat Nigiri injects into the game, it’s always fun to run into a new environment or enemy type even if the latter ends up cutting your game short.
This game is far from being the deepest nor most intense puzzler you’ll ever play, but it works very well with what it’s got and has enough variety to keep you guessing, not to mention a very rewarding challenge curve that will have you coming back for more in order to beat levels with the least amount of moves or without taking a hit, for instance, or to collect all the challenge orbs used to unlock extra stages. If you’re in the market for more quality puzzle games to add to your Switch library, you can’t go wrong with Keen: One Girl Army.