Genre: 3D Platformer, Adventure
Release date: July 27, 2015
Ever since I played the demo in 2005, Legend of Kay has held a special place on my shelf. While it wasn’t a groundbreaking title by any means, I held connection to the title because of its simplistic execution, mesmerizing atmosphere and fun, fluid gameplay. Despite being a hardcore fan, I was shocked to see a remastered release a decade later for what was originally a fairly obscure title. Although the re-release boasts a beautiful polish for a memorable classic well-deserving of a second look, the flaws once present 10 years ago are more apparent than ever thanks to a general lack of modern improvement in this HD remaster.
From the beginning, Legend of Kay is faulted by a wasted narrative. There is a story and even an okay script, but its delivery -- with slideshow cinematics and outrageously bad voice acting -- makes it clear that nobody felt that a dedicated story is necessary for a traditional-styled platformer. It starts as simple as this: a boyish cat named Kay becomes fed up with the oppressive forces of the rats and gorillas who have moved into his small town, a feline village in the mountains. With the help of his master, Kay leads a one-man resistance against the new tyrannical occupants of his town, adventuring through the vibrant and colorful ancient Eastern world around him. Unfortunately, the aforementioned flaws, particularly the terrible voice acting that sounds as if it were cast from the original developer’s family members, makes what could have been a very compelling story for a mid-2000s platformer completely unrealized.
My friend and I used to play this game all the time when we were younger, and we often shared many laughs quoting the hilariously bad dialogue. While I understand the budget limitations of a remaster, if there were ever an area of Legend of Kay that needed to be “remastered,” it's the narrative presentation. If the option to simply skip the poor cinematics and dialogue sequences had been added for this remaster, it would have been a worthy addition; but unfortunately, all the narrative content remains the same, and it's just as cheesy as ever before.
The main appeal of Legend of Kay is the simple, serene gameplay. The game takes a minute to get moving, thanks to the unskippable exposition sequences. But once it gets off the ground, it's nothing short of solid and clever game design. If you’re a fan of 3d platformers, particularly in the vein of same-era classics such as Ratchet & Clank or Sly Cooper, then Legend of Kay will surely fulfill your thumbs’ aching desires, offering up nearly every platformer rudiment that one could hope for.
Kay moves with a beautiful sense of fluidity as you acrobat him through simply designed, wondrously vibrant environments, largely thanks to the game’s gorgeously smooth controls. Kay’s a cat, and he’s a ninja, and the game does a glorious job of capturing the sense of scale and movement that you would expect of a graceful ninja cat. Simply navigating through the world is a tranquil flowing experience as you rhythmically jump across coordinated platform sequences as a soothing hypnotic Eastern atmosphere eases you into a state of mesmerization.
The camera however is a little immersion-breaking. It can sometimes get stuck in confusing positions, and this is made even more disappointing considering a freeform camera would have been a simple but strong addition for the remaster. Nevertheless, this is a minor flaw, as the game’s restricted perspective is perfectly suited for a tiny cat approaching a vast, open world ahead of him. And while the adventure is, for the most part, very linear, the game also has a fair amount of open world sequences.
For the most part, Legend of Kay is a very straightforward platformer experience without a lot of innovation or groundbreaking concepts; sometimes, it very much resembles an old-school platformer. The bore-riding sequences, for instance, are extremely reminiscent of the hog-riding sequences of the original 1996 Crash Bandicoot or the rocket-riding sequences in Rayman 2, and while there’s absolutely nothing new about it whatsoever, its flowing clean execution makes the ride far more enjoyable in Legend of Kay than it ever was in the original Crash or Rayman.
This is sort of how Legend of Kay can ultimately be reduced: it doesn’t offer anything new, and while it didn’t even feel that fresh when it was originally released, it still maintains a level of elegance and simplicity with its Eastern flavor that manages to separate things just enough. While platformer fans looking for something new will have to look elsewhere, platformer fans just looking for a complete experience will be deeply satisfied. As a remaster, however, nothing new is added toward the gameplay. This it just a shame, because as complete as Legend of Kay is, it certainly feels as though it has the potential for more modern improvements. There’s so much more that could have been added without taking away anything when your gameplay core is solely about collecting as many colorful things as you can and bouncing around the environment in creative fashion.
An element of the original game that does feel surprisingly modern, however, is Legend of Kay’s combat. Tapping a single button allows Kay to fly from enemy to enemy so you can string together beautifully choreographed, acrobatic spectacles back and forth across your enemies. As you beautifully toss your foes into the air and piercingly land them on your majestically drawn sword that emits waves of sparkling colored light, it's almost like Arkham Knight meets Assassin’s Creed, albeit on a much simpler, yet still addictive level perfectly fit for a platformer.
While Legend of Kay is mainly a platformer, in a larger sense it's also a large-spanning action adventure à la Legend of Zelda, as each environment presents Kay with a number of unique challenges that propel him through a number of unique genre-crossing quests. For instance, you may have to accomplish some RPG-style fetch quests for a few characters in order to get inside a specific area. Or, for adventure-game oriented gamers, the project-forward move that ties the combat together also becomes cleverly utilized in several puzzle sequences, as you can string combat along floating barrels in the environment in order to reach hidden and otherwise unreachable areas. This makes for some very clever level design and some of my favorite moments in the whole game. It's the clever puzzle elements and rewarding side quests that ultimately make Legend of Kay an undeniably charming experience .
To be frank, I think the only real update in this remaster are the graphics. However, instead of an entire reworking of the original game’s look, everything has just sort of been given another coat of polish. The character models are perhaps the strongest renovation to the visual look. The fuzz-shaders on Kay in particular look quite “up-to-date.” The textures have all been improved, the lighting is bright and the color is crisper than ever. But since it's the same 2005 game at its core, it's just looking in at the same world through a newer, cleaner window. The polish makes everything look sleek, but things like the cattail plants in the wetland ponds still look flat and thin, waving unrealistically in the air like pieces of paper and sticking out like an eyesore. Obviously, the character models aren't the only objects needing replacement.
I appreciate the maintenance of the gorgeous, bright and vibrant visual look of the original game rather than a remake from the ground up and perhaps getting the look wrong (possibly not unlike Oddworld’s New N Tasty), but I don’t see why certain things such as the water couldn’t have had more advanced shaders, and why the animation remains completely untouched. The animation, especially, has a lot of room to be cleaned up and to look more detailed, but instead we’re left with the same cheesy animations from the original that look completely absurd by today’s standards. For example, the dragon you come across early in the adventure has a flying animation that looks about as awkward and unnatural as you could possibly imagine. Again, I know this likely comes down to budget, but if you’re going to revive a second-generation title for a fourth-generation console, isn’t the whole point to utilize the modern technology?
Legend of Kay is a classic title that's a must-play for fans of cleverly-designed platformers. Aside from its crucially poor voice-acting nearly every element of Legend of Kay is masterfully executed, allowing for a very complete platformer experience alongside a number of action-adventure and puzzle elements. Legend of Kay shines in simplicity, but after 10 years, a graphical remaster without any significant updates has come to show us that Legend of Kay could greatly benefit from some more substantial content. Because this remaster is nothing more than another coat of polish, Legend of Kay’s areas for improvement are more clear than ever.
+ Simply executed platformer elements still a joy to play
+ Elaborate combat system lasts the test of time
+ Environments are more vibrant and crystal clear than ever
- Lack of substantial updates for remaster (no camera improvements, no animation improvement)
- Voice acting is still incessantly hair-pulling