When people think of long-awaited sequels, a sequel to the 1986 game The Legend of Kage is not really the first game to come to mind.  That’s a shame, because the original game is not a bad game.  The Legend of Kage looked like a standard side-scroller at first glance, but once you realized that your character can leap to the tops of trees in a single bound, the game really opens its charms.  It’s not a forgotten classic, and it’s hard and repetitive, but the core gameplay is much more fun than you would expect.

Someone must have been hearing when I mentioned casually that this would be a cool game to update, and update it they have.  How did it fare?  Will Kage (prounounced KAH-geh) leap into your heart, or fall flat on his face into bamboo spikes?

The Legend of Kage 2 doesn’t look great at first glance.  It actually looks rather bland.  Every character is in 2-D, the backgrounds look boring, and all of the opposing ninjas are either in blue, green, or red depending on their strengths and abilities.  Your focus is instead on the main character, whish is either Kage or his female counterpart Chihiro depending on who you chose to use at the outset.  Both are pretty well animated, and everything kind of works to some degree.  Since there are so many dangers, it’s nice not being distracted by flashy backgrounds.

Still, could we at least have had a little more variety in the levels?  As it is, every level is either nighttime or daytime.  It seems like every level is in the same forest, and they all blend together after a while.  Some levels have you jumping on rooftops, and this is a welcome respite from the repetitive forest motif, but I still couldn’t tell you any major differences between the levels.

If you’re a fan of Japanese music and sounds, you’ll find a lot to like in The Legend of Kage 2.  There aren’t any tracks that stick out, but you’re not going to find yourself annoyed by the music.  In fact, I just had to turn the game on and play it again because I forgot how the music sounded.  I ended up playing a level for five minutes just because it was fun and have already forgotten how the music sounded anyway, so there you go.

The controls are what make The Legend of Kage 2.  Jumping, swinging your sword and flinging shuriken all feel natural.  You can also dash away from your opponents in mid-air by tapping the left or right button twice during a jump, and this is also intuitive.  When you ask Kage or his female counterpart Chihiro to make a move, make a move they shall without delay.  This is key, because control is the one advantage you have over your opponents.

On top of that, you also have various special moves that you can use as long as you have the magic points for it.  All you have to do in order to use them is hit the X button, which is great.  There are no complicated button presses, no combos that you have to use in the middle of a pitched battle.  Just select the one you want to use with the L or R buttons and press X.  If your finger slips at an inopportune time, you can end up using a move when you really don’t want to.  Still, it’s a small price to pay for the simplicity of the system.

The Legend of Kage 2 follows in the footsteps of its predecessor in that it is insanely hard, although they have made a couple of concessions to non-l33t gamer.  You have no limit as to how many lives you have.  When you die, you can restart a level in the section where you died, meaning that if you died when you were at the level’s boss, you can restart fighting the boss instead of having to run through the entire level to get there.

Still, that won’t change the fact that you will die A LOT.  You have a gigantic health bar that gets bigger as you play, and you will still be killed a ridiculous amount.  The final boss even has a one-hit kill move.  This is a sadistic game, and you will be struggling to get past the vast majority of the bosses.  There’s no easy mode, and beating the game unlocks a hard mode, if you can believe that.  I mean, it’s fun, don’t get me wrong.  It doesn’t change the fact that it is a hard game.

The entire game is all about running from left to right and killing everything in your path.  Sometimes you jump onto rooftops to kill dudes.  Sometimes you run from right to left and kill dudes.  Sometimes you climb walls to kill dudes.  It also keeps a running counter of how many dudes you’ve killed in a row, and at the end of the level, adds that number to your score.  Beyond that, there really isn’t a whole lot else.

You can also pick up colored globes scattered about the levels, which can be used to create magic spells, which you can equip and use to kill dudes.  It’s cool being able to make new magic spells, but there are realistically only a few that are of any real use.  You can also go back at any time and replay a level in order to get a better score, but that doesn’t really affect the game as a whole.

At the outset, you are given a choice between using Kage or Chihiro, and the choice is more than cosmetic.  Chihiro can use different attacks than Kage, so it makes the game play differently.  Still, you’ll be traversing the same levels and killing the same baddies.  There’s a story about why you’re killing the bad guys, but it’s largely immaterial.  You can safely skip every cutscene by pressing Start and not miss a thing.

I’m not saying this is a bad game by any means.  The gameplay is rock solid.  I just wish they would have found more to do with it.

At about two and a half hours into the game, I looked up the FAQ and found that I was about 2/3 through the main game.  So I dinked around in some of the previous levels and started up a new save game as Chihiro, and that added another hour or two until I was back where I was playing as Kage.  I messed around with the game some more, obviously, but you can finish it after about 4-5 hours maximum.  They’ve added in a Boss Rush mode and the aforementioned and redundant “Hard Mode” when you finish the game, but there really isn’t much meat on these bones.