Legend of Kay Anniversary is an HD remaster of the 2005 action-platformer Legend of Kay, offering higher quality, models, audio, and textures. Remasters are normally reserved for more popular game series such as Sly Cooper or Oddworld, so it struck me as strange that a singular game that I can only remember from a box sitting on the used game shelf of my local Gamestop for years would receive an anniversary remaster. After playing through Legend of Kay Anniversary it has become very apparent why I never heard anything more about this game.
In Legend of Kay Anniversary, the mystical, china inspired Yenching is home to four main races: cats, frogs, pandas, and rabbits. These races lived peacefully under the ambiguous religious doctrine known as the Way. The recent generations, however, have abandoned the Way, which leads to them being invaded by the Rats and Gorillas with little resistance. When the Gorillas shut down the titular Kay's martial arts school, branding it as a terrorist training camp, Kay embarks on a journey to save his school and village.
Though Legend of Kay Anniversary has elements of a platformer, the focus of the game is mostly on combat. Kay starts with a sword and unlocks other weapons throughout the story such as claws and hammers. Kay's Health, Magic, weapons and armor can all be upgraded by finding or purchasing upgrades with coins collected from fallen enemies, breakables, and other places.
Despite different weapons, items such as hornets and bombs, magic lightning strikes and blocking, Legend of Kay Anniversary's simplistic enemy AI and slow combat render most of your combat options unnecessary. Though there a couple of different ways to attack, fights are more about following a pattern than reacting to enemy movements. The strategy that seems to consistently work on every enemy I've encountered outside of bosses is this: somersault into a heavy attack to break the enemy's guard, hit them three times to knock the enemy on their back for a few seconds, perform jumping attacks to hit them while they're down until they get up. Rinse and repeat. When there are multiple enemies, combat ends up feeling more like a chore than fun.
Outside of combat, the most consistent gameplay element in Legend of Kay Anniversary are the races. And they're the worst part of the game. Most of the time you're riding on a boar, which for some reason aren't anthropomorphic like the other animals—though there are boat races as well. In these races you must hit every checkpoint, usually in the form of a ring or a wooden sign, and finish the race on time to succeed. Miss a checkpoint and you'll have to start the race over and unfortunately the boars and boats don't handle well. Turning feels difficult and sluggish, even when you get bursts of speed. Hitting the checkpoints is a precise practice, where being slightly off-center can result in clipping through the checkpoint and having to start the race again. These races were tedious and aggravating. I had to remap the controls a few times just to find a way my hands would be comfortable. These races should've just been left out for the sake of quality.
Legend of Kay Anniversary sets up an interesting world and tells much of its story through comic book panels accompanied by sound effects and dialogue. A lot of this dialogue, however, is hard to listen to. I was aware from the beginning that Legend of Kay Anniversary had a target audience much younger than myself, but much of the voice acting and script reminded me of bad anime dubs that aired on Saturday mornings complete with a lead character with attitude who crosses his arms and spits out cringe-worthy one-liners. Kay is almost constantly monotone despite the situation, different animal races sport strange accents, such as most of the rats who talk like chinamen from a Looney Tunes cartoon, and kid-friendly, racially fueled, insults are thrown about. So with the exaggerated accents, casual racism and instances of insults like "rat bastard" thrown about, it's hard to tell who Legend of Kay Anniversary was made for. Even in 2005 Legend of Kay's writing would have seemed dated, so in 2015 it ends up looking like an outdated relic and the visuals don't help either.
Despite being remastered with new models and textures, Legend of Kay Anniversary looks pretty unimpressive. While the models themselves aren't terrible, it's the animations that betray the games. Lip-syncing is non-existent, Kay's mouth moves like a marionette puppet's, and models will clip during cutscenes. Most of the dialogue sounds like it was recorded on low quality mics, or the sound mixing is just bad. It was difficult to hear many lines over the music so I had to adjust the audio levels a few times to get it sounding decent.
At some point, I'm sure Legend of Kay was some developer's dream. There's a rich world with some hints of symbolism about respecting the past and the lessons of ancestors, but what we get is a game that wanted to be another Sly Cooper or Jak and Daxter but failed. It's not a terrible game, just a mediocre one—the kind you would have gotten out of a bargain bin after playing through Jak and Daxter just to satisfy that need for another game of its kind. Overall, Legend of Kay Anniversary just polished up a relic that was never that good to begin with.
Disclosure: Reviewer received a review code for this game.