Tuesday, 15 February 2005
No cats were forced to don bandanas and wield katanas in the making of this review. Honestly.
The main components of The Legend of Kay read like a early nineties cartoon checklist. Animals dressed as samurais, the lead character is a teenage prodigy with attitude and there is a simple divide between the good guys and the bad. Another common sight in the nineties was sub Mario/Sonic platform games. These games focused more on collecting spinning gems or coins rather than brilliant level design or rewarding gameplay. Such games were hated at the time, so it is inconceivable that similar games would reappear in this day and age. Being a platform game, lets hope that The Legend of Kay resembles the nineties in plot alone.
The first thing that hits you about The Legend of Kay is the presentation. On the game’s opening, it announces it’s use of Renderware and Dolby Pro Logic 2. Neon Studios have made a good job of the Renderware engine. On face value, The Legend of Kay’s graphics are solid with plenty of nice spot lighting effects. Certainly, Renderware, or even the PS2, doesn’t seem to be unappreciated. The fact that Dolby Pro Logic 2 is used is a nice touch also. Such a feature is underused in today’s videogame and the musical score works a lot better with it. However, there is one complaint that seems to underpin the presentation. The games style clearly draws inspiration from Disney but it is not even close in accomplishment. And in avoiding the chance to give the game a unique style The Legend of Kay is worse off because of it. So what we’re left with is a professionally produced but soulless front end. And then the game starts.
As a game, The Legend of Kay offers only a single player experience. This experience is one that mixes platform and adventure genres. This has been a worrying trend in platform games of late. And when games go for this compromised gameplay there is a big risk that the whole game becomes a jack of all trades, master of none. In taking this risk, The Legend of Kay fails. The game uses platforms for nothing more than a means to an end. Little if any skill is needed to manoeuvre over the levels. At most, players will need a sense of timing for jumps but that is hardly sufficient entertainment. The adventure side of the game won’t engage the player either. The very idea of adventure elements are not the most exciting of prospects. Often too watered down for RPG fans, too distracting for traditionalist. The Legend of Kay is no different. Hiding key collecting in the form of narrative is lazy. While the keys are sometimes different in appearance, such as bombs for instance, it is still the idea to need a certain item to open new areas. Worst still, the tasks to retrieve keys are simple, repetitive and unrewarding on any cerebral level.
This kind of complaint covers the whole game. Throughout the unoriginal idea of doing quests for keys, winning keys, unlocking doors to the next area, moving on to the next area, the formula doesn’t change. Sometimes there are minigames to break proceedings up, but the entertainment value is minimal. Take, for instance, the riding of the boars, Kay, the lead character, rides them over object littered courses. The problem is these races never change gear from pedestrian. Sure one of the countless objects that can be collected is a chilli pepper which makes the boar go faster for a few seconds, you have to assume that a tiger feeding a boar chillies is a normal sight in these parts. Ignoring the surrealism of such scenes, the way speed is being represented is awful. White flashing does not count for sense of speed. It is this non-human style that haunts the whole game. And by non-human, we don’t mean tiger/boar relations.
The Legend of Kay relies the attraction of the story to move the game on. Unfortunately, it is a very unattractive prospect. Again, the game has stolen the Disney cookie-cutter and has come up with some idea of three animal races living peacefully until one day an evil animal race invades the serenity. Kay the Tiger is forced to take on the evil animals, which are gorillas and rats, and thanks to his samurai training he can do it alone. From the very beginning, it is obvious of the story is going to pan out and how it is going to end. And it is never interesting. Even talking to NPCs in villages that appear after levels is predictable and boring. If they’re not saying how great you are, they’re giving up a task to find pumpkins. The dialogue is awful, especially Kay’s lines. Kay comes out with the worst kind of acceptable-for-kids insults. ‘Butt-breath’ anyone? He’s obnoxious and about as appealing as a brick. Not what you want from a game looking to develop characters that the audience should care about.
So with the plot being trash in every sense of the word, what is this game offering? Take the unchallenging plot, simple goals, familiar styles, non-existent difficulty curve and the pretty colours; it is clear that this is for kids. But why doesn’t that make the game any more acceptable? For a start, kids want more than this. They don’t want to be patronised by continuous clues or hand-held through each section. They want to explore worlds and figure things out for themselves. They shouldn’t have to play a character that has been design by people who, in there ignorance, totally miss the point of being cool. The premise of the game, while unoriginal, does hold plenty of scope for an exciting game. A game that involves a tiger beating up hoards of angry gorillas and rats, how can that not be fun? It is not fun when the design of the story and game is to make the world feel like our own. Why not go for the surreal route? It is games like this that make me sorely miss games like the N64’s Spacestation Silicon Valley and the recent Beyond Good and Evil. Those two examples shine brightly because of their ability to bridge across age gaps and, at the same time, offering originality.
As gamers, we should really put up with games like this. Sure, we could commend the developers on a nice use of presentation but if they think that is all that makes a game, why should we? The gameplay is a chore, the story is unoriginal and the characters are as annoying as tooth ache. And the ‘it’s for kids’ angle is insulting to anyone who considers themselves a kid, including the over 16 kids. Just go out and buy Beyond Good and Evil instead.