Review: The Legend of Kage 2 (Nintendo DS)

The Legend of Kage 2
Genre: Platformer
Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Release Date: 10/08/08

Taito’s been on a major roll with retro gaming lately, with Space Invaders Extreme and Arkanoid DS being some of the best games to come from the company in years. The Legend of Kage 2 marks the company’s third foray this year into revamping old franchises into new, awesome games at budget prices. The bad news is that The Legend of Kage 2 doesn’t quite manage to replicate the casual gaming awesomeness that the prior two titles did (where anyone could jump in and play them), largely because it’s a bit more involved than the prior two titles. The good news is that, despite this, The Legend of Kage 2 is EASILY worth your investment if you are at all a fan of the side-scrolling action platformers of old; from Strider to Ninja Gaiden, from Shinobi to the original Legend of Kage, if you look back upon these old-school games with joy and longing, The Legend of Kage 2 would easily be worth a full-price purchase for you, and as a budget title, it’s practically screaming to be purchased.

There’s a fairly in-depth story to the game, but to boil it down to basic terms: a bunch of evil ninjas and demons have abducted Lady Kirihime, who is said to have a power so immense she could pretty much end the world with it, and as either of the two playable characters (the dedicated, stoic Kage or the sarcastic, witty Chihiro), it is up to you to rescue her. The story is told in text scenes at the beginning and/or end of each chapter, giving you a fairly solid idea of what’s going on, and while the story isn’t anything particularly amazing, it works perfectly fine for the sort of game this is. The story doesn’t really change from one character to the other; while the dialogue will often be drastically different depending on who you’re playing as, the core of the story is mostly the same regardless of the character you’ve chosen to play as. This isn’t a particularly bad thing, because the story doesn’t impact how enjoyable the game is one way or the other, and as it is, the story does the job of establishing the characters and such nicely. It’s not great or anything, but it does what it needs to with little problem.

The Legend of Kage 2, like its predecessor and the games it’s similar to, is a game made up entirely of sprites, all of which look pretty nice. Either of your two playable characters are fairly well animated and feature a lot of different animations for their various actions, and the enemy sprites are also reasonably good looking and well animated (though many appear to be simple palette swaps… although it’s not like you can really draw a ninja grunt all that many different ways). The environments are also of good quality and are nicely done, and boss enemies are often produce impressive attacks and animations as well. Aurally, the game features a fairly fitting Asian-themed soundtrack that fits in well with the whole “ninjas in feudal Japan” theme of the game, and the sound effects are pretty nice across the board. There’s almost no voice acting to speak of, save for the grunts and groans of battle, but they’re fitting and well done in any case. All in all, the game looks and sounds good, if not spectacular; you won’t be blown away by the visuals and audio, but it’s pretty good and fits the product well.

The Legend of Kage 2 plays like you’d expect of platformer featuring a super-ninja: you have a melee attack and a throwing weapon attack, a jump button and “ninja magic” mapped to the face of the pad, the D-pad moves you around, and the triggers switch between your magic attacks. That’s it. While the controls are certainly simple, the game is by no means simplistic; your characters, aside from being able to attack and jump as you’d expect, can also run up walls and climb along ceilings, and can earn upgrades as you progress through the game to, say, increase the amount of combo attacks they can do at one time, the range and/or volume of ranged attacks they can perform, and so on, depending on your character. As noted earlier, you can choose from one of two playable characters: Kage, the titular hero from the first game who is capable of taking more damage and has a longer-distance ranged attack; and Chihiro, a recently graduated kunoichi who has more magic power at her disposal and has a more powerful but shorter distance ranged attack. The two characters more or less play identically, but the differences between them in their abilities and upgrades will change how you play as them, giving you more reason to play through the game with both characters.

Ninja magic in The Legend of Kage 2 is also handled in a particularly interesting fashion that needs some explanation. As you start the game, you really don’t have any magic to draw from, but as you progress through the levels and search around them, you’ll uncover orbs that can be placed on a magic grid in-between missions. Depending on where you place these orbs, and in what patterns, this will dictate what magic is available to you in each mission. If you, for instance, pair up three red (flame) orbs, you’ll get a powerful fire attack, while if you pair up three blue (water) orbs, you’ll get a powerful ice attack. Orbs can be joined in any combination, and making up simple combinations may end up unlocking powerful combos you might not have thought of at first, which makes playing with this board more interesting than one would first think. There are four colors of orbs to play with (red for flame, blue for water, yellow for electric, and black for non-elemental), and depending on how you pair each, the results can be incredibly useful, thus making both experimentation and exploration to find more orbs fruitful endeavors to undertake as you play.

The game features over a dozen levels to play through per character, with most featuring all sorts of secret locations to discover (though you may have to come back to those stages after upgrading a bit, as they may require some higher jumps/slides and such) and powerful bosses to smite. There are two additional difficulty levels to unlock as well, for those who enjoy a significant challenge, though the default difficulty should be sufficiently challenging for most casual players. You’ll also be able to unlock a Boss Rush mode to take on the various bosses in succession without having to plot through the stages to fight them, if you want another challenge. Further, accomplishing various tasks in the game unlocks concept artwork to look at; there’s not a lot of it, but it’s a nice, simple touch if you’re at all interested in unlocking it, and most of the artwork is easy enough to unlock that you might well unlock about half of it without even trying. The game is generally about five to eight hours long through the first playthrough, depending on how many times you go through earlier stages and/or die playing through the game, and with the multiple difficulty modes, characters, and play options, there’s definitely a lot for someone to do with the game if they’re interested.

To be perfectly frank, there is only one significant flaw to The Legend of Kage 2, and that flaw is somewhat mitigated by the budget price: the game is rather simplistic when compared to similar DS titles, such as the various Castlevania titles to come to the console. It’s not that The Legend of Kage 2 is at all a bad game (it certainly isn’t) so much as that it doesn’t wow the player as much as similar titles, either because the visuals aren’t superb or the game isn’t longer or more in-depth or what have you. You can very easily enjoy the game and have fun with it, but it lacks a lot of the depth and punch of other, similar franchise revivals, both from Taito and other companies, that made those games stand out. As noted, the budget pricing mitigates this problem significantly; for twenty dollars, you’ll certainly have fun with the game… but if you come into it expecting the same sort of experience you got from a Castlevania or Contra, you’ll most likely leave disappointed.

That said, The Legend of Kage 2 is worth your money, especially if you’re a fan of action/platform games, as it’s a solid, entertaining flashback to the gameplay mechanics of the 80’s-90’s, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Combining a solid visual style, fun and easy to learn gameplay, a solid amount of play and replay value, plenty of variety, and multiple difficulty and gameplay modes, you should be able to have plenty of fun with the game while it lasts. It’s not as stunning a product as its competitors on the console, and someone expecting a comparable experience to those games may find this to be a bit of a disappointment, though the budget price and fun experience the game offers while it lasts should mitigate that for most players. The bottom line is that if you’re a fan of platformers or ninjas, The Legend of Kage 2 is easily worth the asking price, and should be more than worth playing through for anyone looking for some simple action-oriented fun.

The Scores:
Control/Gameplay: GREAT
Replayability: GOOD
Balance: GREAT
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: GREAT
Miscellaneous: GREAT

Short Attention Span Summary:
The Legend of Kage 2 is a fun, enjoyable throwback to the eight and sixteen-bit days of gaming that combines the linear-stage platforming of those days with the expanded storyline expectations and additional novelties of more modern products into a result that’s worth checking out. The game features solid presentation, easy to learn and navigate controls, a good amount of variety and challenge, and plenty of reasons to play and replay it if you’re a fan of the genre. When compared to other DS releases in the genre, it lacks the polish and depth of some of those games, and while this is easily ignored because of the budget price point, this may turn away those who are more interested in those sorts of products. For everyone else, however, The Legend of Kage 2 is well worth the asking price, simply because it’s fun, enjoyable, and worth playing through at least once, if not multiple times.



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