Legend of Kage 2 Review: Back From The Dead
“The Legend of Kage” - the original is remembered as a bad port of a great arcade game, which was pretty much the norm back in ’85. Who would have thought that game was going to ever see a sequel, much less a sequel 23 years later. Even by today’s lenient standards, releasing a sequel 23 years after the original is quite far from the norm, in fact, “Legend of Kage 2” might stand alone at the top of that category. Many things about the games industry have changed over the last two decades, but one thing has always remained true; there’s always room for another ninja game - especially a good one.
“The Legend of Kage 2″ starts off by offering two playable characters, Kage and Chihiro, each with their own story, which unfolds as they try to rescue the Princess Kirihime. There hasn’t been a story in a ninja game that has really pulled me in since the original “Ninja Gaiden,” and “Kage 2” is no different. While there are a few characters that get really fleshed out as the story unfolds, it’s your basic ninja-themed plot; save the princess, and/or save the village. I’m fine with that. I don’t play ninja games to become engrossed with the story – I play to be a ninja, which is something that “Kage” definitely lets me be.
As I played through the game, I pretty much convinced myself that this is the game that Team Ninja could have made, had they not decided to take “Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword” 3D. While “Dragon Sword” worked out to be quite a good game, I’m personally a big fan of 2D games, especially when it comes to the portables. The use of DS’ tiny, dual screens fit the gameplay of “Kage 2” quite well, so much so, that it reminded me of last year’s excellently executed “Contra 4.” At the same time, “Kage” moved at an impressive speedy clip as you virtually flew through the levels slicing ninja baddies all the way, without even a chance to look back. The speed, combined with the branching level design evoked yet another comparison to a classic video game, this time it was that little blue hedgehog, Sonic. If he was a ninja, this would be his game. I realize I just compared “The Legend of Kage 2″ to both “Contra” and “Sonic,” but it is a really great hybrid of both – just with a whole lot more ninjas.
One of the best parts of “Kage” is that it keeps you coming back for more. The game’s difficulty is on the more frustrating side, but that just means you won’t be able to run through the game in just a couple of hours. Some of the levels, and bosses, are guaranteed to send you to the ninja graveyard more than a few times, but it wouldn’t be a good ninja game if it didn’t drive you at least a little bit crazy.
“Kage 2” is great, but it isn’t perfect. Mixed in with the hints of greatness are a handful of little complaints that put a damper on the overall experience. As you progress through some of the more difficult levels of the game, you’ll notice that the controls don’t always feel as tight as they need to be in order to survive. For example, you’ll do a dash jump, when you only mean to perform a regular jump, and you’ll end up a few kitana lengths off from your goal. It’s a small gripe, but it ends up being a bigger issue as the game gets harder.
One of the highlights of the game that balances out those little imperfections is the addition of Ninjitsu, and the accompanying mini-game. As you struggle through the main storyline of the game, there are magical attacks (like fire, lightning, and extra health) that Kage and Chihiro can learn, and then take with them into battle. One of the best parts of Ninjitsu is that it takes place outside of the regular plot in a Chinese checkers-esque mini-game where you have to group together different colored marbles in order to learn a new skill. It’s always nice to play a mini-game that doesn’t seem too forced, and actually ties into the main game in some capacity, as opposed to something that’s just tacked on at the end for added replay value.
Two additional, and a little nontraditional, small things that should make “The Legend of Kage 2” a little bit more appealing for DS gamers are the price point, and the history. At $19.99 there aren’t many games that can compete in terms of value per dollar. Also, the user manual includes a nice, albeit short, look back at the original game, and where “Kage 2” has its’ roots. A very nice addition on Taito and Square Enix’s behalf – never let them forget.
In the last few years, making a sequels every year for modern franchise has become a regular occurrence, however, occasionally, there’s a game that goes 20 years without a follow up. “The Legend of Kage 2” is one of those long delayed franchises. Whenever a game like this comes along, there’s a handful of questions that arise like; was the original actually worthy of a sequel? Are there enough people around that even remember the original? Does this game retain the same feel as the original or go in a completely different direction? Fortunatly, long time fans have little to worry about, and new fans should have something to look forward to. It’s safe to say that “Kage 2” doesn’t break much new ground, but it succeeds for what it is, and that’s being a bad-ass ninja game.