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Legend of Kay Anniversary (Wii U) artwork

Legend of Kay Anniversary (Wii U) review

"Legend of Kay Anniversary is a faithful port of a game that arguably didn't deserve it, with all of the strengths and weaknesses that implies."

Every five years or so, like clockwork, someone puts out a Legend of Kay game. In 2005, that someone was Capcom, and the occasion marked the action/adventure title's debut on PlayStation 2. In 2010, DreamCatcher presented a DS port. And now, here in 2015, Nordic Games has remastered the original release for PC and current consoles. With so many versions of the game now available, you might suppose that Legend of Kay is something truly special. You would suppose wrong, though. The masses largely ignored it the last two times it arrived on the scene, and they surely will again this time around because it's not quite memorable enough to inspire any other response.

Legend of Kay Anniversary actually does nearly everything a remaster should. I haven't played the original version on PlayStation 2, and now I don't need to. The port clearly is faithful to its source material, without any unnecessary tinkering. I checked out a FAQ for the original edition, and that document served me well as I played through the update. If there are any substantial differences in terms of level design, story or enemies, I'm not sure what they might be. As for the visuals, they've been touched up beautifully. Playing on my 60-inch HD set, I was pleased by how sharp and vibrant everything looked, without the blur and ugly polygons that mar typical experiences with retro games.

Legend of Kay Anniversary (Wii U) image

I'm a big fan of remasters that leave the source material alone when it's appropriate. In Legend of Kay's case, you'll encounter bland settings because the original PS2 hardware couldn't support more detailed settings. I can live with that. I was less impressed, however, by draw distance. As you explore the surprisingly expansive environments, expect to see pop-in on the horizon. It's never extreme, but it does occasionally call attention to itself. Closer to the camera, character models look great but talk like puppets. I would imagine that's authentic to the original version, but dialogue isn't synched with moving mouths at all. It's like watching an old Japanese martial arts movie. The voice actors say their parts and the characters' jaws keep flapping for a moment. Considering how good everything looks for the most part, the disconnect jars.

If you look at screenshots, you'd be excused for mistaking Legend of Kay for a standard 3D platformer. It's more complex than it appears on the surface, though. Over the course of a 15-hour campaign, you'll explore a forest, a swamp, multiple ruins, and more besides. As a whole, the game feels like a cross between Tomb Raider, PlayStation 2-era Shinobi, with a healthy bit of Knack or God of War thrown in for good measure. You run and jump around huge areas, typically looking for statues you can interact with to open a locked door. Then you brawl with a bunch of rats and gorillas, maybe solve a few puzzles, visit a wandering merchant, perhaps ride an animal through a frustrating obstacle course (I wouldn't have minded at all if those segments were cut entirely, even though they do offer a change of pace), and repeat it all over again in the next stage.

There is, of course, a story to tie it all together, which is mostly told by characters that stand around talking, but sometimes benefits instead from sharply drawn comic panels. Kay, the wisecracking hero, is an oversized feline. He lives in a village with others of his kind, which recently has been quarantined by invading gorillas and rats. Most of his fellow villagers are happy to go about their business within those restraints, but Kay is not. One night, after a battle training session with his master is interrupted by an alchemist rat and some gorillas that close the dojo, Kay steals the village sword and embarks on a grand adventure to save his people.

Legend of Kay Anniversary (Wii U) image

I'm not sure who might be the story's intended audience. The heroes and NPCs are cats, rabbits, frogs, and panda bears. It's unclear whether Kay is supposed to be a cougar or a tabby, but he's considerably taller than any pandas he meets, not much larger than the frogs, about twice the size of any rabbits, and small enough to ride on the back of a wolf or boar. Meanwhile, rats are equal to his size, and even hulking gorillas and grizzly bears don't exactly dwarf him. They all exchange cheesy dialogue that references various movies and television programs no child is likely to have watched, including a late-game reference to "Gilligan's Island" of all things. There also are some surprisingly nasty comments from the villains, and even the heroes let slip the occasional mild profanity. I guess that means the writers were trying to satisfy gamers of all ages, but it's an odd mix that doesn't feel quite right for anyone.

Most of your time in the game will be spent wandering, which requires precise movement that doesn't always work out quite right. Kay likes to move a few steps when you nudge the analog stick, which sometimes leads to him dropping off a tiny ledge on which he was positioned. He can double jump, but it's often difficult to be sure he'll land where you want because the camera swings wildly at inopportune moments, or gets stuck in corners in the more confined environments. For me, this led to frequent moments of frustration throughout the campaign. I wished I were playing a more polished platformer, such as one of the Sly Cooper games.

One of the game's more unique elements involves floating objects that appear in the air. You can slash one and then perform an air dash to fly to another one. The camera doesn't keep up with the action, though. You have to rely on arrows that flash on-screen and point toward the next target. Sometimes they don't materialize, though, and it's easy to head in the wrong direction. This typically leads to Kay dropping into a pool of lava or a bottomless pit, or he might just fall back to the base of a tower he's been climbing. There was potential here for something cool, but it more often just irritates.

Legend of Kay Anniversary (Wii U) image

Combat, at least, is remarkably polished, though the camera proves once more that it simply isn't up to the task. Kay can switch between three weapon types he eventually acquires: the sword for quick strikes and parries, claws for airborne assailants, and a huge hammer for easy damage to heavily armored foes. Besides that, the feline can roll around his foes and strike from the back, or dash between them and string together combos. Mostly, you'll be doing a lot of rolling and hacking, but it's surprisingly fluid and quite satisfying, even if it does all feel a bit repetitive.

There's also a lot of content to unlock, including selections from the soundtrack, character models, and the various cutscenes that play out over the course of the campaign. If you are interested in any of that, you'll have to work for it. The game boasts a rather complex scoring system that requires you to hit or collect crystals and keep combos going while you clear objectives and duke it out with enemies. If you want to gain access to everything, you have to master combat and movement and really pay attention to your surroundings. The difficulty level you play at can also impact your scoring potential, so there's a lot of hidden depth, which you can easily ignore if you prefer.

With just a bit more refinement to its unique blend of action and exploration, Legend of Kay could have been a remarkable PlayStation 2 release, one that stood proudly alongside the likes of Sly Cooper and Ratchet & Clank. It never quite reached that point, though, and Legend of Kay Anniversary doesn't attempt to fix any of the original game's shortcomings. Instead, the apparent goal was to faithfully bring it to your HD television, looking better than ever before. That effort, at least, was an unqualified success. Whether or not you wind up liking it depends on your answer to one simple question: are you ready to game like it's 2005?


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (August 04, 2015)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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