This is a title most of you probably have never heard of. It’s another ninja action side-scroller, but a very unique one. Its arcade action is fast and unforgiving and its acrobatics quite enjoyable, two things that set it apart from other titles.
The Legend of Kage starts out like reading a page from the Videogame Plot Handbook. You are Kage, a fearsome ninja, and a group of evil ninjas captures your girlfriend. You must fight to rescue her. Whoa… look out, I smell movie rights. It’s a lame excuse for some martial arts action, and this is in no way a deep game anyway.
Legend of Kage has more in common with the classic Kung Fu than with Ninja Gaiden or other similar titles. Its premise is simple and its action unrelenting. Where Kage differs from both is in its homage to classic oriental kung fu movies, the same ones that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon took its style from. The kinds where actors are doing wire-work every other scene, allowing them to run along treetops and up walls while trading skillful sword slices. A very limited selection of this kind of awesome is what you’ll be doing in this game.
Controls are fairly simple. One button swings your razor sword, one button tosses out a throwing star from an infinite supply, though only two stars may be on the screen at a time. Jumping is achieved through use of the up button, and here’s where things start to get crazy. Holding down the button allows you to glide up effortlessly past the height of most trees and land gracefully on their branches. You can also speedily climb trees and walls with this button before gliding through the air again. You’ll actually be able to make it through most of the game this way, by simply leaping from tree to tree. You will eventually need to kill some enemies to proceed, with their numbers tracked either at the bottom of the screen or in a fixed number of stronger “boss” characters, so you can’t simply climb a tree and dodge ninjas like you’d dodge a bear. But it’s this leaping ability that makes the game so unique. Your enemies never stay on the ground for long either, so most of your battles will take place in midair or in the rare moments when you and your foes are on terra firma.
The graphics in the game are simple, and probably the game’s weakest technical point. Kage’s characters look like ones from an Atari game, and the backgrounds are sparse and generally barren. You will usually see trees in the foreground and slightly unfocused, blue-shaded trees in the background. Indoor areas mostly have one color for wallpaper. A ninja does look like a ninja, and a tree does look like a tree, but neither are spectacularly amazing.
Kage’s sound is a strong point however, with a simple but unobtrusive oriental background theme and sound effects that are few, but are used effectively. Thunder crashes in the background, fireballs sizzle as they pass, the clink of swords clashing together is easy to pick up on. Control, as said before, is simple and easy to handle. You can throw stars in all directions and run, climb, and leap with ease.
Compared to Kung Fu, both games have the same essential gameplay, but Kage retains freedom of movement and classic style. Yet just like Kung Fu, Kage is highly repetitive. You will only encounter three basic types of enemies – a guy that uses his sword, a guy that throws stars, and a magician that shoots fireballs. There are some color changes that denote skill, but that is all the variety you will see. Since everyone, even you, dies in one hit this makes the enemy group noticeably lacking.
Powerups come in the form of spheres that change your costume color and give you more powerful stars, a few random appearances of a mushroom-looking thing that gives you the ability to shoot stars in all directions, and a strange badge or leaf that casts a limited spell that sucks ninjas to you and kills them. If I’d known about mastering the eventual ability to create personal black holes, I might have invested in a Tai-Kwon-Do class.
Except for the larger stars, you will never upgrade your weapons or your character, which also adds to the repetition. After a while you’ll be speeding through your enemies, slashing as you pass and just waiting to get somewhere or for something new to happen.
The Legend of Kage is certainly an entertaining game for a while, namely due to its speedy acrobatics, but it certainly isn’t the best ninja game. Simply enough, it’s too repetitive to be much fun for long. Even if you save your lady, she is captured again as you escape, and you are forced to play through a more difficult version of the same levels. It’s a standard arcade trick, but one that doesn’t do well when you’re at home on a console and have the time to sit and play through large numbers of levels. If you like ninja action games, Kage is defiantly one to try out for its innovations, but doubtfully one you’ll want to keep.
Action side-scroller with easily apparent classic Asian influences.
Repetitive, the game never really ends, spartan graphics.