MEDIOCRITY ISN’T THE WAY
Some games are like a fine wine – only gets better with age. Other games are like a carton of milk – after a couple of weeks, it’s already spoiled. Legend of Kay Anniversary is the 10 year re-release of a PlayStation 2 game that doesn’t stand the test of time. Although it’s clear that there are elements of the game that seem fun for its time period, nearly every aspect of Legend of Kay feels too antiquated and old to hold most gamers interest for very long.
The story revolves around an anthropomorphic cat named Kay, who lives in a world inhabited by various animals. All the different races of animals previously lived in harmony thanks to a religious code known as “The Way.” However, this balance is lost when tyrannical gorillas and rats, led by Gorilla Minister Shen and Tak, the Rat alchemist, take over. Kay decides to rebel against them after his martial arts school being closed down, which is the last straw after years of oppression.
At first the story shows signs of depth. The portrayal of dominance and persecution by the gorillas and rats is done well, especially for a game clearly marketed towards kids. Sure, these are just cartoon animals, but the game at first takes the time to show how afraid the citizens are, and how the children aren’t allowed to leave the village. There is a tone set for the gravity of the situation.
However, past the initial first area, the story never evolves. The character and world-building is almost never addressed after the beginning of the game and as a result, becomes a simple story of beating the bad guys without any nuance. In fact, besides showing you other places in this world, roughly half of the game doesn’t advance the plot at all. You’re just Kay running around beating up rats and gorillas without a plan.
It doesn’t help that the voice acting is atrocious. The dialogue is wooden and corny and, with the frequent cutscenes, way too prevalent. Most of the script consists of dumb one liners and jokes between Kay and henchmen before they fight and expositional back and forths between Kay and random characters / quest givers. If you are a fan of bad voice acting, this is a case where it’s so bad that it’s good. However, the story overall raises your expectations before completely dropping the ball.
At least the graphics have aged a bit better. Animations are repeated, like most PS2 era games, and there is a slight blocky look to character models, but the bright visuals and varied environments make for a 10 year old game that at least aesthetically has aged well, considering. The soundtrack is mostly generic compositions for an adventure game but damn if they are not energetic, especially the menu music.
The sound effects are a strange beast. For the most part, they are pretty standard, nothing worth mentioning. However, in other cases, you’ll have a bat flying at you cawing like a hawk. Hitting some unprotected enemies sounds like you’re hitting metal. There’s just bizarre mistakes like that all over the place in this game. I don’t know if this is on purpose or they actually thought a bat sounds like a hawk but regardless, it’s definitely worth mentioning.
Legend of Kay is an action adventure game that feels a bit reminiscent of Prince of Persia. You will do some platforming, engage in some side quests, and have a small area to explore, though the game is mostly a linear experience. However, combat is arguably the main focus of the game. Kay has combo attacks, a guard, a grapple attack, aerial attacks, a magic attack, a roll, and a dodge mechanic. Your move set isn’t highly diverse but it is varied enough to keep the combat interesting, especially with the inclusion of items and three different upgradable weapons.
However, there are three things that hinder the combat considerably. The first is the button layout. Except for the grab mechanic, all the combat is done with the face buttons. Because of this, you’ll have to press too many buttons to get certain commands. To use magic, you have to press and hold the attack button. To dodge around an enemy, you have to press the guard button slightly before pressing the roll button and the direction you want to roll. It’s too intricate for what could’ve been a simple button press.
The second issue is the lack of a lock-on feature. This third-person action game has no lock-on meaning you’ll sometimes jump at or attack the wrong enemy, which can be frustrating. The final issue is the combat animations. Good God, this game is in love with its animations. However, they often will get you hit because after doing a spinning aerial attack, Kay has to do a pose before he starts fighting again. I can’t do a rolling attack fast enough because the full rolling animation needs to be done first. It makes the combat feel stiff and can be really frustrating.
Despite all these problems, the combat is the best aspect of Legend of Kay. The best moments of the game are when you have a crowd of enemies around you and you’re jumping between them, slashing them down while rolling around any enemy attacking you for a grapple attack. Some fights suffer from a confined fighting area, and some annoying enemy types, but overall the combat is the one enjoyable aspect of the game.
Platforming in Legend of Kay is typical of 3D platformers of its time, which is to say it’s serviceable but suffers from a lack of precision. Sometimes you will slide off the edges and Kay won’t grab the ledge. As a result, you’ll abuse the double jump feature. There’s a distinct by the numbers feel to the platforming, similar to generic 3D platformers from the early 2000s. It’s just serviceable at best.
The game is broken up into small sections that, while ultimately linear, allows you to go around and accept side quests and generally look around and do some objectives in alternate orders. However, you can’t return to these areas to complete side quests or collect something you missed. This is sort of a strange aspect to this game since you spend much more time in some areas than others, meaning you don’t know how much time you have to complete some side quests. As a result, the game has a pacing problem as most areas outstay their welcome.
To break up the platforming and combat sections, there are these racing sections that have you ride a different animal to a new area. Why these animals are not anthropomophize like the rest of the world is never addressed. You need to collect food to keep them going and peppers for a speed boost. These are completely unnecessary as most of the races take place in areas you could’ve traversed yourself. The fact that you die with one hit doesn’t help things.
As a PC port, Legend of Kay Anniversary is awful. There are no settings whatsoever to change and you can’t rebind the buttons on controllers. No resolution options, no vsync, no antialiasing, nothing. The only thing you can do is put the game in windowed mode by pressing Alt and Enter. Games released on PC need options like this and any game released with literally nothing to configure is inexcusable.
The Verdict: 4.8 out of 10.0
Legend of Kay Anniversary is a game that just isn’t good today. I can see aspects in the story, the graphics, the controls, the combat, and the platforming where it could have been seen as pretty decent back when the game was released in 2005. However, most if not all of the aspects of this game have just not aged well and only someone with nostalgic glasses will be able to appreciate it. There’s not much here that’s done terribly but there’s definitely nothing here done well.
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