Following in the footsteps of Eastern epics like the already classic Nioh and July’s excellent Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Megafun Games’ Hidden Dragon: Legend is a side-scrolling combat platformer set in Imperial China.
The story begins with the amnesiac Lu, who staggers out of a prison massacre and witnesses the murder of his friends at the hands of the shadowy Organisation. He discovers in the process that he has mysterious special powers raging inside him. The opening stages fly by at a fair clip, giving you little chance to latch onto plot or character. Luckily, combat and platforming is the core of this game, not narrative.
Mechanically reminiscent of 2014’s Strider remake, Hidden Dragon: Legend has a decent stab at side-scrolling combat, with some fluid moves and flashy abilities. Trouble is, it quickly becomes an endless slog of damage sponge bosses and awkward enemies that rush Lu en masse. When things get chaotic, the cracks in the fighting start to show. Poorly signposted enemy attacks are rife and combos don’t do exactly what they say on the tin.
Lu has light and heavy combos that feel suitably meaty, with a successful hit triggering a brief moment of slowdown, creating a satisfying ebb and flow to the clashes. Devastating special abilities mapped to shoulder and face button combinations can be used by consuming a special meter and Lu has a dash that can avoid attacks and phase through enemies. There are also ground and air combos that afford the ability to juggle opponents, pummeling them while staying out of harm's way. Early tutorial phases (similar to Street Fighter’s trials in setting and execution) expose an imprecise moveset that isn’t as responsive as it should be for title reliant on its sword skills. Too often a late or early input will count towards a combo, locking you into an animation and leaving yourself exposed to a potentially deadly counter.
Taking down foes garner kill points to spend on upgraded combos, purchasing new special abilities, and stocking up on potions. There are separate skill trees that boost Lu’s attributes, which are in turn bound to a currency picked up from chests throughout the levels.
Initially, there's a lot to do with your character, but tooltips and hints are thin on the ground, so diving into menus is your only way of knowing how to upgrade and what to prioritise. This isn’t a bad thing, of course; games like Dark Souls have popularised minimalist learning curves for years. However, where the Souls series leaves you helpful breadcrumbs in the opening stages, Hidden Dragon: Legend seems to throw some help at you but obscure other, more important systems in the process.
The difficulty of the combat is both satisfyingly old school and cheap. Enemies are easy to counter and more powerful foes offer a helpful flash to signal an incoming strike, but the timing of your character's reactions feels clunky. Pulling off a perfect dodge and making your opponent pay for his mistake is great, but mostly it feels like an accident. The sheer onslaught of enemies gets overwhelming early, and through mixing light and heavy types with annoying airborne projectile variants, most fights feel like a chore.
Then there's the platforming, which is far too unpredictable given that Lu can't grab onto ledges and his character model remains fairly rigid throughout the jump animation. A grappling mechanic introduced later on further adds to the frustration.
Aside from some wonky presentation inherent in an indie production (the PSone era voice acting is actually pretty charming), the game looks great. Lush bamboo forests and jade encrusted caves are attractive settings for an unfortunately patchy experience.
Hidden Dragon: Legend is an indie title that offers an initial burst of satisfying combat, but that quickly devolves into a tedious stream of identikit encounters coupled with platforming that feels like a tacked-on afterthought.