Ninjas in the Mist
The DS library of games is ever growing, and though Nintendo platforms, in general, may be best known for catering to the casual crowd, there’s always room for more hardcore action on the handheld. Taito, along with the aid of their new parent company, Square Enix, have revived an old arcade classic that will offer players all the challenge they desire. The Legend of Kage 2 brings ninjas to DS for some high-flying adventure on the go. How does it fare?
The original Legend of Kage released in arcades around Japan back in 1984 and later came to American home consoles, such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, in 1987. In the original game, you played as ninja Kage who was on a mission to rescue a kidnapped princess named Kiri. One of the defining characteristics of The Legend of Kage was your ninja’s ability to make great leaps into the air and then travel along treetops, as seen in many modern wuxia films (see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). The Legend of Kage 2 offers almost the exact same story premise and much of the same basic gameplay, though updated for DS.
This time around, you can play as either ninja Kage or female ninja Chihiro. Kage uses a katana for close combat, and Chihiro uses a Kusarigama, a sort of fighting pole with a whip on the end of it. Both characters play essentially the same, though they will acquire slightly different abilities along the way. In addition to melee attacks, each character also has a ranged attack; Kage has shuriken, and Chihiro a fundo.
In Kage 2, when Princess Kirihime is kidnapped by demon master Yukikusa – in an attempt to fuse Kirihime’s power with his own – your character will have to venture through various levels and take on fierce bosses in order to rescue her highness. Though the physics in Kage 2 are different from the original, the premise is the same. Your ninja can make great leaps in the air and travel along trees and mountain cliffs. You’re also afforded the ability to run vertically up walls and scale mountain outcroppings, as well as air dash.
When you first begin your adventure, gameplay is seemingly exciting. You’ll slash your way through hordes of enemy ninja, leaping like a gazelle, and lilting from treetop to treetop. However, the level design quickly becomes predictable and gameplay eventually feels a bit repetitive. Kage 2 plays as a side-scrolling action adventure, and in some ways it can be likened to Contra with ninjas. That said, there are only a handful of different enemy types, and it’s the sheer number of enemies the game throws at you that make Kage 2 such a difficult game. Make no mistake – The Legend of Kage 2 is one of those white-knuckle games that will challenge even the toughest of hardcore gamers. It might not beat you down with quite the same intensity as Contra 4 (DS), but it comes to DS as one of the few, one of the proud – a game not for the easily discouraged.
A typical level consists of fighting your way through three or four main areas filled with tons of baddies; defeat the level boss, rinse and repeat. Running up walls is a fun and necessary ability, but since the mechanic is mostly used to navigate simple platforms, the novelty wears thin quickly. Additionally, scaling along ceilings is never used in ways that challenge you to get past clever obstacles, yet negotiating some outcroppings is an exercise in frustration for no good reason. The levels do, however, offer, in most cases, multiple paths in which to travel, and you’ll likely never get to see everything in a given level the first time through. The game allows you to replay levels, which is a nice addition, since you’ll unlock various skills and extras by completing certain objectives. You’ll also find orbs along your journey, and they can be used outside of combat to create new ninjutsu. By matching orbs in various combinations on a small grid, you can create new abilities. The different types of ninjutsu include those that temporarily increase your attack power or heal your character slightly. Most of the ninjutsu are useful, but since they use up a sort of soul power that’s rarely replenished, you’ll mostly want to save these techniques for use during boss encounters. There’s usually just enough soul power to pull off one or two ninjutsu techniques per level.
Boss battles, though, are where Kage 2 really shines, and the game offers them aplenty. Most of these battles are a bit drawn out, but pretty much all of the game’s bosses offer some clever weakness you’ll need to exploit. It may take you three or four (or more) tries to figure out, but success is always rewarding due to the nature of these encounters. Though levels are pretty much the same thing throughout – with slight variations in appearance and platform layouts – it’s always fun to press on just to see what kind of boss the game will throw at you next.
Much like Kage 2’s gameplay, the production is good, but it could also be much better. Similar to Contra 4 on DS, Kage 2 looks like an SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) game. The game’s backgrounds are very basic, and though everything is uniform and collision detection is sound, there’s absolutely nothing remarkable about the game’s visuals. Character sprites, however, fare a bit better and are on par with what we’ve seen in the DS Castlevania games. Character stills during conversations are also attractive and probably offer the most visually appealing aspects of the game.
The aural elements of Kage 2 don’t excel beyond the game’s graphics, and much of what’s here is quite dated. The sound of flying shurikens is decidedly archaic, and enemy sounds are wholly unambitious. Themes during level romps are fun and fit well alongside the adventure, but most of the music during conversations is overly dramatic and makes the overall story come off as campy – perhaps the actual intent of the developers.
Along with music that might conjure visions of daytime drama, Kage 2 has some utterly cheesy dialogue. Though the story offers some interesting ideas based on authentic, feudal-era Japan, conversations between the game’s main characters are, simply put, bad. However, it’s hard to imagine this wasn’t the developers’ intention from the start; everything is so hammed up and heavy handed, it’s difficult to think otherwise. Playing as either main character offers minor variations in the story, but the differences are negligible.
In spite of the game’s flaws, The Legend of Kage 2 still offers a fun bit of side-scrolling action for hardcore DS gamers. Though the game’s story is quite short, you’ll rarely see everything there is to see in a given level the first time through. Chapter bosses, though a bit drawn out, are fun and rewarding to defeat. The gameplay gets a bit repetitive, but there are incentives for exploring every nook and cranny of the game. You’ll also unlock a few extras, and at $20, Kage 2 is a pretty decent bargain. Casual players will likely give up midway through the second chapter, but for those folks who like it rough, you’ll get a good and mostly fun challenge from this game.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 2.5 Graphics
The graphics work, but they’re severely dated on DS. 4.0 Control
Controls work well and make sense, and there are four different control set-ups to choose from. 2.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Sound effects are archaic, and the music is hit or miss. 3.8
Though The Legend of Kage 2’s story is quite short, the two story arcs, multiple pathways through levels, and $20 price tag make this a fair deal for gamers who like it rough.
3.6 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.