Game genres have a habit of going out of fashion, only to be revitalized a few years later. Platformers were a mainstay during the generation of PS2, Game Cube and Xbox, with each platform having their own mascots. From Ratchet and Clank to Mario and Blinx, the sixth generation was defined by platformers with bright colors, great puzzles and, of course, loads of collectables. In the midst of all these stand out characters came a game starring a furry feline, Legend of Kay. The platform genre has made a resurgence as of late with re-releases, remastered editions and brand new worlds starring iconic characters of the past glory. Legend of Kay Anniversary edition, now released for Nintendo Switch, comes out against a stiff competition, and hopes to capture that same nostalgia by updating a game first released in 2005.
The basic premise reminds me of the cartoon Avatar the Last Airbender. I have fond memories of the show and its world, and that's what drew me in to Legend of Kay. The world in the game is an island, Yenching, a home to anthropomorphic animals; frogs, hares, cats and pandas that have been living in peace under a code of the Way. All the problems start when the Din, led by gorilla minister Shun and Tak the Rat Alchemist, invade the island and imprison all its inhabits to do their bidding. I must say that the background story do some heavy lifting because it was very intriguing to understand the world the developers were creating. Likewise, pivotal story beats were told via comic book strips with great art design and clever dialogue that begs your attention. You could argue that watching comic panels takes you out of the game world, but because Legend of Kay is a cartoonish game to begin with, it adds a great deal of polish and becomes one of the strongest selling points overall.
The story captured my attention but as soon as I started the game, I ran into some very annoying and outdated game design that left me confused and wondering why the developers updating the game for today wouldn't take time to fine-tune and add some basic functionalities. The game unfolds almost in its entirety; from completing quests and errands, to achieving rewards and to moving on to the next objective and then repeat the same process. While the mission structure is not inherently bad, the game does little in giving you a good direction to go to. There's a map to look at in the corner of the screen that could be toggled on or off, but whether it was a red X or a green X, neither were my mission objective. One would give me more information from a person telling me what I already knew and another would be someone giving me some obvious tip on how to attack or execute commands. Having grown up with Jak and Daxter, Crash Bandicoot and Mario and having obvious end goals, I felt cheated of my time. I spent far longer wondering what I needed to do rather than getting it done. Having wasted a lot of time wandering around the map and talking to the same generic characters, I often had to double back to talk to the same people who would eventually unlock a certain quest that I could achieve.
There are a couple of more outdated features the game still hangs on to. There's no auto-save or save from the pause menu, instead you must find red Japanese shrine lights scattered through the world and walk by them. The game doesn't start with the option to skip cutscenes by default but rather puts the function in the option menu. At least the game have this as a feature but releasing a game in 2018, you'd except it starting off with it. I really wish there was an auto lock-on feature as well, because the camera would occasionally fling me from one combatant to a blind spot that made me take more damage. What really hurts in all this outdated garbage is that the combat is otherwise smooth and such a joy to play. There was no input lag, whether played in handheld or docked mode. Also, the developers did a great job in providing you with a wide array of martial art attacks, magic and attack vases that help give you a good sense of power throughout the game. Even the attack animations are diverse and make the titular cat look like a Kung Fu master. There were a lot of enemies types that ranged from flying beetles to attack plants, and from rats to armored bears and gorillas. It never felt like the game was hurting for different enemies but it did show by the end that the only amount of difficulty stemmed from adding more combatants rather than a variety of how they were attacking.
It did help that there were some good platforming levels with ropes, moving platforms and attack-based challenges scattered throughout the game. Also, there are random race scenes that have you, a humanoid cat, riding a boar. Given that other animal species didn't look realistic, it felt odd that that the boar did. The races were relatively fun, though, and did change up the pace. Plus, the old trope “it’s only a game” can be applied to these challenges to give my gripe a pass. There's also a mission later on that has you riding an ancient medieval beast which really is a shining point of the game. I won’t ruin it for you but if you do end up playing Legend of Kay, there's a little foreshadowing to keep you chugging along.
What was really odd and off-putting to me, though, is that this game’s tone was both kid friendly and also very aggressive at the same time. The story is very reminiscence of a cartoon, but the main character Kay and villains are very vile in their language and actions. Kay, being the hero saving all his neighbors and friends, comes across as arrogant, rude and even genuinely annoyed that he has to go on this journey to save his island. I get that the writers wanted to portray him as a rebellious teenage hero, but look at Aang, Goku, Naruto or any other hero you could think of that would fit the tone for kids while still having broad appeal for older audiences. When it comes to rats and gorillas, it's very blatant that you are meant to dislike them. Here, they put other animals in imprisonment camps, force them off their lands and even have them carry them around in chairs. Again, having a proper back story that these animals were treated badly or had troubles in their past would have given the player, especially younger audiences, a broader understanding to accept their actions and made the ending more cohesive and unifying.
After playing through Legend of Kay, I really have mixed feelings. I got used to its outdated features that were popping up from time to time, and really enjoyed the overall story and especially its delivery in a comic book fashion. But bringing back Legend of Kay, which was arguably a good game back on the PS2, the developers should have needed to make it stand out today. Visuals are good, but there are still outdated features present. While the developers added unlockables and the ability to replay races, I never wanted to go back to them. Finally, while Legend of Kay can be considered okay-ish, I had to ask myself - with so many great games out there to play, enjoy and hopefully finish - do I have time for it? I can recommend Legend of Kay Anniversary only if you were a diehard fan of the original game or can find it for cheap.