As much as I love picking up games that are over a decade old, I can’t say I’ve ever been familiar with Legend of Kay. A quick Google search shows the title was released in 2005 for the Playstation 2. The console that literally got everything except Nintendo games back in the day. I did play a DS version of the game, but after about ten minutes, I silently vowed to never touch it again. Fast forward to recently, and I’ve been given the chance to play the real deal through Legend of Kay: Anniversary on Switch. Does this touched-up port fit right in with today’s modern hits? Does it rely too much on elements that have been vastly outdated since its release 13 years ago?
In the fantasy land of Yenching, anthropomorphic animals inhabit villages and towns alike. Our hero Kay resides in a village full of cats, and all was peaceful until the gorillas and rats came to cause trouble. You see, the animals generally believed in “The Way” until younger generations began to see it as nonsense (To their defense, it does sound that way). Now that there’s nothing keeping these animals in order, Yenching’s under attack and it’s up to Kay, with the help of his Master’s training, to venture off and set things right.
Legend of Kay‘s premise isn’t as complicated as it tries to make it seem. It’s essentially a “stop the bad guys” plot with NPC calls for help in between. I feel like Kay would be a funny character if he was given a good voice and direction, but I’m getting ahead of myself here. The writing otherwise feels rather dry, with a lot of it dedicated to providing mission objectives through the mouths of characters communicating with Kay. There isn’t really much to know about these guys other than that they exist. For a world filled with talking animals and swordplay, one would expect a lot more than this. Props to the comic book panels that play out every now and then. Those are stylish and are preferable to the cutscenes rendered in the in-game engine.
Let’s be real here: You can tell this is a game that hails from the Playstation 2. The characters look like plastic and have plenty of stiff animations. While the world around them clearly has an HD upgrade and runs at a silky-smooth sixty frames per second, it is still built on old texture work (right down to the completely nontransparent water). I do like the lush nature of the locations featured throughout the game, at least. The grassy lands, damp caverns, and mucky swamps all have the necessary visual details checked off the list. For what it’s worth, you can tell the effort was there when the developers originally worked on the game. Not sure if I could say the same for bringing this style to the modern audience.
Oh, this is one of those games where the voice acting isn’t executed well. I come to expect this from mid-2000s movie-based games, but an original title? It’s like a bunch of people got together to try voice acting for the first time and recorded a single take for all the dialogue used. Some of these voices are wack; why does Kay sound like an elementary schoolkid? What’s with the Jamaican frogs? There is no real emotion or effort conveyed; it just feels like they read through the script while recording because they figure they’d get paid anyway. Maybe they originally wanted to get the best voice actors they could for the project, but were unable to utilize their budget for such an occasion.
The music fares better. It’s an atmospheric soundtrack that fits the scenes appropriately. When you’re exploring, the music is calm and serene. When there’s battles to fight, it gets more intense and caught up in the action. Not a bad composition from…Jake Kaufman?! The same Jake Kaufman that composed the freakishly catchy music in plenty of Wayforward’s games? Shovel Knight? Retro City Rampage? Huh. This is the last kind of sound I’d expect him to be associated with. To say that time marches on is an understatement.
Exploring in Legend of Kay can be fun. There is a wide amount of terrain to roam around on, and Kay moves fluidly and responsively. He’s got a snazzy double jump, a weapon at his disposal (whether it be a sword or claws), and potions/items obtained either from smashing pots or buying from the local store. He can also do things like swim, wall jump, ride boars, climb ropes, and so on to progress through the platforming challenges. The foundation is honestly very promising. There was an obvious attempt made to make Legend of Kay the best it could have been at the time. The foundation is there, and it feels good. So why am I having a hard time giving this a full thumbs up?
Well, for starters, Legend of Kay begins abysmally slow. When it isn’t highlighting Kay as a trainee, it goes through the various moves you can pull off in the adventure, but it just drags and holds your hand the whole way through. Things get more enjoyable when the game picks up, but for some odd reason there’s no way to check up on the moves you’ve learned. As far as I can tell, you’re expected to know all the button combinations by the time you get into real combat. And despite how it may seem, you can’t get away with just doing the ol’ one-two hit over and over again. It’s a balancing act of eyeing enemy behaviors and getting opportunities to attack. This would be fine if it weren’t for it taking a while to kill enemies and if I had a list of button combinations for reference a la fighting games.
The problems don’t stop with combat, either. Of all the questions I ask myself when playing Legend of Kay, the one that pops up the most is “Where the crap do I go?” There is a map that details the side-quests and expands as you find new areas, but the main end goal for each Chapter isn’t highlighted that way. Some may turn out to lead the way while others are optional paths. When the case comes to this, there is hardly any telling which is which. NPCs may tell you to go somewhere, but where that somewhere is isn’t pinpointed on the map, nor does the camera give you a brief glimpse at what the NPC may be referring to. In fact, the camera itself can be a hindrance in ways not unlike Super Mario 64‘s. The most fun I have with the game is when it focuses on the linear levels, because that’s when I know I won’t have to spend several hours looking for that one place to go to before pulling up a walkthrough as a desperate last resort. Pure platforming and exploration is what it’s best at. It’s a shame there’s not enough of it to overpower the negatives.
Legend of Kay: Anniversary has the ingredients for a great 3D action-adventure game. However it falters by not only being hard to navigate and utilize combat, but also failing to rectify these problems with this remaster that released thirteen years later. So much could have been done with that time. A sequel on Gen 7 consoles could have been out with vastly improved visuals, sound, and gameplay. Why exactly is this Anniversary edition here if it doesn’t feel like a genuine improvement over the original? Is it just to cash in on the few that may have heard of the game back in the day? Was anyone, whether it be fans or the devs, really clamoring for this game to return? I’m not suggesting there’s no effort put into this game at all – there is a degree of fulfillment and satisfaction to be had with it – but it feels like a giant missed opportunity to capitalize on its potential. With a new team and a new budget, I imagine there could’ve been much more done to make the game better than as it is. Yet, it just feels half-baked.
Review copy provided by THQ Nordic