Practically Purrfect Family Fun
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There are many, many ninja or samurai-themed games out there. Some, like the Onimusha series, are extremely successful. Others, like Red Ninja, don't quite rise to glory. But almost none are both suitable for kids to play, while also being a good time for adults.
Legend of Kay changes that.
In the game you play, not surprisingly, Kay. Kay happens to be an orphaned cat who spends much of his time at his village dojo training with an old cat known as The Master.
Kay's village is a peaceful if not idyllic setting. There are nice houses, beautiful foliage and even a picturesque stream (that you need to swing over since Kay, like most cats, hates water.)
We learn that there are four major groups of animals that live in villages on the island, which is somewhere in the South China Sea. In addition to the cat village, there is also a place for rabbits, frogs and panda bears. In the past, all of these groups followed a religion called "The Way" which taught them how to thrive in harmony. But over time the different groups became lazy and turned away from the teachings that kept them living so well. You can hardly blame them. The island is a really nice place most of the time.
An army of Gorillas lead by the megalomaniac Shun allies itself with the evil rats, led by nefarious shaman Tak, join forces to take advantage of the island resident's weaknesses. They invade and quickly subjugate the entire place.
At first Kay tries to get along with the new masters, but over time he bumps heads with them once too often and Shun orders the dojo closed. This is too much for Kay to take, so he steals a magic sword and sets out on a quest to make things right again.
So begins your real journey. Kay often runs into rats who try to block his path. You fight them using both swords and magic. Combat is of the type that is easy to learn but can be difficult to master. There are the standard mashing of the "X" button moves, but also quite a few combo-type attacks like rolling in behind an opponent and hitting him in the back, a move that is necessary if they are blocking you with a big shield. These combo attacks are more difficult to pull off, though veterans of the fighting game genre should have no problems.
The surprisingly deep combat system also gives you three weapons to choose from, and you can find upgrades to each as you travel. There is a claw which is great against unarmored opponents and works in the water. There is a hammer which does well against armored opponents like apes. And there is the sword which is kind of good in all situations.
Magic can be employed in one of two ways. First you can hold up to five different potions. Using a potion will trigger a magic effect, like spawning an angry (but thankfully friendly) swarm of bees, giving Kay extra attack power or dropping a bomb. Bombs can actually be useful to clear rubble and reach secret areas, so it is good to always carry quite a few with you. Kay also has a personal reserve of magic, which is displayed on the screen like his hit points. If you expend five magic points, you can trigger a damage blast that can knock the armor off powerful foes and kill weaker ones or ones you have been battling with and hurting for a while. This magic is regenerated by picking up blue orbs that fall from opponents you kill, or can be replaced by purchasing a special potion from a helpful vendor along the way.
Although the core of the game is fighting, there are also plenty of interesting distractions like races. In a race, Kay rides on the back of anther animal like a boar, trying to jump through checkpoints, stay on the correct path and generally not falling off. If you do fall off there is no loss of hit points or anything like that. You simply have to try again. The racing missions will be the most fun part of the game for a lot of people, so thankfully it is extremely well done.
The one thing that I did hate about the game is all the jumping puzzles. I don't know what people that make these types of games think that is it a lot of fun to barely make a series of leaps, climbing ever higher, only to miss one near the top and have to start all over again. Kay unfortunately is covered in situations like this one. So if you hate jumping puzzles as much as me, it is something you might want to consider before picking this one up. Many of the jumping puzzles are optional ways to acquire powerful weapons or armor, but not all of them. Some need to be done.
For an action-adventure type of game, there is a very detailed plot. There is the strained relationship between Kay and The Master and also Kay and his love interest Su Ling. Kay also gets to interface with various leaders from other villages as he liberates them, and these reactions are often comical.
Although the game is rated E10+ meaning anyone older than ten should be able to enjoy it, there is the caution that the language is a bit harsh for your average ten-year old. Rats are sometimes called "rat bastards" which is hilarious when said by a little furry rabbit you just rescued, but might make parents a bit nervous if their kids pick up the jargon.
In the end, Kay is an amusing title that is simple enough and PG-ish enough for most kids to enjoy, but that adults will find a lot in as well. Its one of those rare titles that you can buy for your kids and then play yourself once they go to bed.
John Breeden II is the Chief Editor of GiN. While a forward thinking man he admits to a fondness for older video games. You should have seen him at Videotopia. John can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org.