Gaming Obscura: Legend of Kay

Published: May 28, 2015 1:00 PM /


Legend of Kay PS2

Many games featured in this series are very rarely going to get the chance for a re-release. Some exceptions of course do happen, and we sometimes see a sequel down the road for more die-hard players to enjoy, but for the most part many games just fall by the wayside. For every successful franchise, there are easily a dozen titles that seem to disappear into obscurity.

The reasons as to why games become obscure are often numerous. Perhaps it’s due to bad design or changing tastes in gameplay. Maybe the game wasn't marketed correctly, or it got lost in a crowd for being too similar to other titles. Some games just seem to fail regardless of their reception by both critics and fans alike, although over the years, a few of these titles have the distinction of becoming cult classics, rising above their initial mediocre release.

Deadly Premonition is perhaps the most famous example; a game that is technically terrible, but loved by a hardcore audience for its unique gameplay choices and strange, almost Twin Peaks approach to the horror genre. Other games also fall into the realm of cult status over time: The Mother series, God Hand, and even recent titles such as Spec Ops: The Line, tend to fit the bill as well. They are games that are well-loved, with limited success. This series will very likely cover some of these games in the future, but this week, something special is happening for one such game; it is being re-released.

The title in question is Legend of Kay, a charming action-platformer developed by the now defunct German studio Neon Software. Neon Software first started in the late 1990s and were the development team by another obscure video game, Tunnel B1, a first person shooter for MS DOS. A majority of their games, however, were European-only releases focusing on the Nintendo Game Boy Color, such as Maya the Bee: Garden Adventures and Santa Claus Junior. Legend of Kay was also their last release before closing, and one of the few games released by the studio in the U.S.

A Playstation 2 exclusive, Legend of Kay is notable by many for its unique world setting, a fictionalized East Asia with anthropomorphic animals, much like the movie Kung-Fu Panda or the tabletop game Jadeclaw. While the design and look of Legend of Kay was unique, it was sadly lost in the shuffle of similar games on the Playstation 2, which had a large contingent of “cartoon-styled” action platformers, such as Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, Spyro and the Tak series.

Upon first glance, Legend of Kay would likely fit in well with all of the above games as kid titles, and this is not an unfair assessment. Cut-scenes involve the use of a moving comic-book, and characters give over the top, often cartoonish performances in their voice acting and delivery. In fact, one of the major negatives noted by many reviewers back in 2005 was the cornball acting and stereotypical character clichés that were present in the world around you — including a brash, wisecracking young hero in Kay; an old kung-fu master; and an evil, racist overlord hell bent on taking over everything, despite his bumbling sidekicks in tow.

It is easy to dismiss a game for its clichés, but much like Rogue Galaxy, it is not necessarily a bad game because of them. Legend of Kay does tell a story we all know, but does so comfortably in the milieu of a children’s cartoon from the 1980s. Over the more earnestness we see in adventure games taking themselves too seriously, Legend of Kay plays like an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It's colorful and kiddy, but action-packed and fun at the same time.

This is hit home with the gameplay of Legend of Kay. Like most action-adventure titles, the emphasis on exploration and combat are the main focuses. After a slow-build, the player is allowed to travel throughout the fictional world of Yenching, albeit in a linear fashion. The diverse terrain shows off large swamps, deep caverns, active volcanoes and imaginative cities, each with their own challenges and puzzles to solve.

Most of the gameplay is certainly inspired by The Legend of Zelda, in particular the use of items and the free-form combat. One of the major innovations found in Legend of Kay was the use of a unique combo system. If the player can keep a combo going after striking and downing opponents, they can also teleport and strike new enemies with the press of a button. This allows Kay to effectively platform without platforms, so long as you have something to hit, and also gave combat an extra flair, as well as a device to help solve puzzles and achieve platforming goals without overly relying on double jumps and wall climbs.

Another unique feature is a racing mini-game found in Legend of Kay, where you ride giant boars, boats and even dragons on long course. They serve virtually no point to the plot, but much like the fishing minigame in the Legend of Zelda, they offer the chance for extra items and abilities for Kay to possess and just add to the experience of the game, breaking up chances of monotony.

So why was the game never successful? Unfortunately there is no real answer to that question. While receiving positive reviews at the time, Legend of Kay faced stiff competition on the Playstation 2 when it was released in September 2005. Several major action and platformer franchises, such as Devil May Cry 3 and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves, saw releases the same year. 2005 was also a major year for the Playstation 2 when it came to highly anticipated ports — most notably Resident Evil 4 finally coming to the system after being a Gamecube exclusive. It also didn’t help that the Playstation 2 had a glut of “cute-looking” action platformers to choose from, which made Legend of Kay get lost in the shuffle.

Thankfully Legend of Kay is lucky among forgotten games as it would be re-released. A port of the game was made for the Nintendo DS in 2010, which received mixed reviews at the time, notably for weaker graphics and gameplay issues. However, since then Nordic Games has picked up the license to Legend of Kay and is subsequently re-releasing the title this week for the PC, the Wii U and the PS4 with an all new, HD version to celebrate its tenth anniversary. For the third time in ten years, Legend of Kay is seeing the light of day again for a new generation.

Maybe there is something to be said with that, as Legend of Kay was endearing enough in its simplicity and gameplay to be memorable, despite its flaws and arguable mediocrity. Perhaps with the new release, Legend of Kay will find new life outside of its cult status, with a flock of new players eager to try something new. If nothing else, the Legend of Kay proves that not every game needs a franchise to be remembered.


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