Review: The Legend of Kage 2

KAGE Box Art.jpg The Legend of Kage 2 may just be the biggest sleeper hit of the entire year for me. Not only is it a huge surprise because I had no idea it was even coming out until a review copy landed on my doorstep last week, but also because it’s one incredibly slick game that has pushed Sonic Chronicles, Dragon Quest IV, Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise and Lock’s Quest aside as the game getting the most play time in my DS right now. That’s some impressive competition to beat out!

From everything I’ve heard, the original Legend of Kage, released in arcades and various home platforms including the NES in the mid 80’s, was a real dud. I probably played it once upon a time on my NES, but I honestly don’t remember it at all. You wouldn’t expect a not-so-fondly-remembered game to be first in line to get a sequel, but hey, more power to Taito for revisiting one of its past brands and bringing it up to date, especially when the end product is of this caliber.

Like Shinobi, Ninja Gaiden and I assume the original, The Legend of Kage 2 is a side-scrolling ninja action/platform game. As either the katana-wielding hero Kage or the kusarigama-swinging heroine Chihiro, it is your duty to battle through 13 crisply detailed stages of lighting-quick 2D action, hopping from treetop to treetop, scaling walls, avoiding spiked pits and other hazards, and dealing out death against a constant barrage of demon-ninjas in order to rescue princess Kirihime, who has been taken captive by lead villain Yoshiro Yukikusa as part of his evil scheme to plunge the world into darkness.

The stage layouts tend to feel a bit samey after a while, but overall the gameplay design is right on point. The controls are smooth and intuitive, as they need to be for a game requiring precision reflexes like this. Epic boss battles are in abundance and do an amazing job challenging your pattern recognition skills and patience without crossing the line into cheap territory. A combo scoring system delivers that “gotta beat my high score” mentality any good arcade-style game needs to have (though it’s a shame some form of online leaderboard system isn’t provided). And skill advancement and ninjutsu magic systems combine to add a very, very light RPG element to the mix. The presentation may be a bit too GBA-ish for some, but the 2D backdrops of moonlit skies and vibrant trees of pink and red blossoms are still beautiful even if they don’t push any of the DS’s technological capabilities, and the dual-screen display is used nicely to give the environments a much grander sense of visual scale.

At only $20, Legend of Kage 2 is also a tremendous value. The 13-mission campaign takes upwards of four hours to finish the first time — then you get to go back through as the other character and see the story unfold from a different perspective – and unlockable content, such as concept art, harder difficulty settings and a nifty Boss Rush mode, promote further replayability.

With so many games coming out right now and plenty more still on the way before the year lets out, The Legend of Kage 2 is a title I fear will get completely lost in the shuffle. Please don’t let that happen. Perhaps it’s not the most original work of gaming ever made – it’s pretty damn derivative to be honest — but that shouldn’t scare you away. This is one remarkably entertaining ninja side-scroller that deserves circulation in your DS.

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Pros:
+ Awesome boss battles
+ Zippy side-scrolling ninja action with smooth controls
+ Beautiful 2D environment backdrops and excellent music
+ Two playable characters and unlockable content offer good replay value

Cons:
– Samey level designs sometimes seem almost like filler to space out the boss fights
– Lack of some form of online component for high score sharing or maybe even co-op is a little disappointing

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo DS
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: TAITO Corporation
Release Date: 10/7/08
Genre: Action
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!