theuselessgod's The Legend of Kage (Nintendo Entertainment System) review

To be honest, I hated this game the first time I played it.

The Short

Pros

- High-speed action game where you can be a high-flying ninja/warrior/guy

- Fast, with responsive controls, crazy maneuvers, and high-octane arcade action

- Extremely satisfying once you "figure it out"

- Has the whole "one more round" thing going on

Cons

- Has proven to be extremely polarizing

- Music and graphics aren't particularly great

- Extreme difficulty (and some cheapness) will turn many off

- Only four stages that just cycle over and over

- No explanation of goals on the first world can prove confusing

It is time to become the ninja.

The LongI absolutely hated The Legend of Kage the first time I played it on a friend's NES. I thought the graphics were bad, the music was annoying, the controls were different and the game was hard. I also had no idea what to do and was pretty much overwhelmed. I didn't play it for very long before quitting.

Years later I decided to pick it back up because, why not, and actually give it a fair shot rather than just a few minutes. After a few runs of frustration I found something weird: despite being cheap, hard, ugly, and awful sounding, The Legend of Kage is...really fun? And really addicting? How did that work out?

Yes, dear reader, I had a complete change of heart, but I know this won't be the same for everybody. Let me explain why I think The Legend of Kage is a good game, and why you might be convinced so as well.

I am the ninja.

The Legend of Kage takes a good deal from the genre that spawned such awesome wire-heavy martial arts movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. As Kage (pronounced "Kah-Gay", not "Cage"), your lady is snatched up by some jerk ninjas, and since you are clearly not one to tolerate that you go on a ninja-murdering rampage on a quest to rescue her. Pretty standard stuff.The Legend of Kage was originally an arcade game, and it shows. Kage is absolutely merciless in its difficulty. Right from the start you'll notice it: three lives, one hit, no continues. You die, you start over. It's a quest for a high score (which the game doesn't save...I hate old NES games without batteries), and saving the princess is just icing on the cake. But hey, it worked for Donkey Kong, and that game didn't even have ninjas!

Ninjas climb like monkeys.

The core idea of the game is to fight your way to the girl, and this is accomplished with two weapons. A fires shurikens (of which you can have two on the screen at any given time), and B flaps around a rather pathetic looking sword. The sword, despite having awful range and only killing stuff 50% of the time, is essential because it can deflect incoming ninja stars from the other ninjas, who want you dead. But most of your killing will be done with the ninja stars.

Where this game gets kind of crazy is the jumping. As stated, this game is like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, in that holding up will send Kage leaping through the treetops with the greatest of ease. While up there he can still throw ninja stars in any direction he wants, though you are still limited to two on the screen. You are also completely committed to the jump while going up, no redirection or adjustments allowed, which can be a pain. While going down you are still committed, but if you pass a tree you can grab it to stop the fall. I have no idea if that was intentional or not.

You'll see this a lot.

Climbing and jumping off trees aside, the game also drops random powerups from enemies. You have the usual glowing balls which are absolutely essential to survive. Not only do they make your ninja stars more powerful (and change the color of your outfit), but they also give you one extra hit before you die. That's right, one mistake and you're out a life. It's quite merciless.

Other powersups include a scroll that kills everything on screen for about thirty seconds (which is useless since all the enemies are infinite anyway), and some weird...ocotopus things that sometimes cross the screen in the air. Grab them and you'll get points and sometimes invincibility, the option to shot stars all around you, and so on. All the power-ups are extremely rare, so you'll have to master the game without them.

As you progress the seasons change, which is a nice touch.

The game only has four stages. In the first, you travel left murdering everything until three fire breathing monks arrive. The game doesn't tell you this, but after you kill those three you'll move on to the next area. Stage two is rather short: you are fighting in water and after killing a set number of ninjas you move on. Stage three requires you to leap up as fast as possible and is extremely difficult; the red and black ninjas are a pain and can take you down easily. Lastly, you fight your way inside a castle until you reach your lady, slice her bonds with your sword and achieve sweet victory.Well, for about five seconds before she's snatched up again and you start the game over. At least the seasons change between playthroughs.

The gameplay in The Legend of Kage will either appeal to you or you'll hate it. I won't beat around the bush: this game is extremely cheap when it comes to deaths. Sometimes I'd spawn between enemies who would throw stars, and if I didn't react quickly enough I'd be dead in less than a second after reviving. Since you are committed to your jumps you'll sometimes end up being dropped right into a projectile (though you can deflect it with your sword), and since enemies are faster than you they can jump down, get a star off, and jump away before you can react. It can be extremely frustrating (especially since continuing requires watching the stupid opening cutscene every single time), but I really started to like it. When I'd beat even the first stage (which I think is one of the harder stages) I'd get a great sense of accomplishment, even if it took me five runs just to get that far. And while I wish there had been an option to pick how many lives you started with (five would make this game much funner), it still worked for me.

Oh man, those graphics are hurting my brain.

What doesn't work for me is how sub-par the graphics and music are. The original arcade game wasn't great to begin with, but this NES iteration is just...boring and ugly. While I kind of like the trees (and I really like jumping off of them and hitting my head against the...sky? Ha!) and the palace level, the rest of the game is quite hideous. It wasn't bad enough to make me quit, but it was pretty bad.The music is completely inexcusable. While I will admit the one single track that plays the whole game isn't completely horrid, it isn't exactly Mega Man 2 quality. But the fact that it's the only song (not counting the opening jingle during the cutscene) that plays, it gets on my nerves pretty quick.

If you make it to winter, I applaud your skills.

All things considered, you will either love this game or hate it, but either way I implore you to at least give it a fair chance. I was convinced it was the worst game ever a few years back, and now I'm really enjoying booting it up and playing a few rounds. It's punishingly difficult (Ninja Gaiden's got nottin' on this), pretty ugly, and has the most annoying song ever, but if you can survive the taxing gameplay there is a good deal of fun and satisfaction to be found here. It spawned an NES sequel (Demon Sword), and after playing it I really want somebody to make a modern version of this game. Leaping through the trees, murdering ninjas mid-air with swords and ninja stars like a badass? Sign. Me. Up.But for now, The Legend of Kage still works just fine. Assuming you are not on the side of the fence that hates it. Then...you should probably not play it. Just sayin'.

Three out of five stars.

Upside-down ninjas and a weird goomba thing in the sky? Man, this game is awesome.

More at http://nathanvsvideogames.blogspot.com

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