Bringing a video game back from the annals of history to be remastered or remade is tricky. Publishers have to ask themselves if it's something original fans and newer players could fall in love with. Should it get a new coat of paint or be rebuilt from the ground up? Has it been too long or short since its original release? With this in mind, it's not a good sign that when we first saw Legend of Kay Anniversary, we'd never heard of it before. And when we started asking ourselves, "Why wasn't this an overhauled remake?" as we played it – well, that was an even worse sign.
Legend of Kay is an action adventure 3D platformer released in 2005, likely attempting to join in on the success that the genre was having with titles like Jak & Daxter, The Legend of Spyro, and Ratchet & Clank among others. As always, though, some will rise to legendary status while others are quickly forgotten, and this game fell into the latter category for understandable reasons. For instance, the gameplay is a mix of elements that may fit together and work well enough, but it fails to leave a lasting impact in any given area.
One of the main aspects of gameplay is hack and slash fighting that could be defined as a kid-friendly equivalent to Darksiders II's combat. Groups of enemies will surround you countless times throughout your journey, but you've got plenty to counteract their assaults. Your trusty sword, claws, or hammer can string together a useful yet limited assortment of similar moves that you'll quickly master in conjunction with rolling, jumping, and blocking. Items can be found and purchased that range from offensive weapons like a jar of hornets and bombs to status-altering stuff like health potions and a concoction that increases your power for a short while. There's a magic meter that's utilised to lash lighting at multiple opponents, and miscellaneous tricks that you can do like automatically fly to an enemy's location with the click of a button as you build a string of attacks.
To be fair, it all plays smoothly with responsive controls, but because the pool of moves is so reductionist, it gets stale after several hours, and it doesn't help that foes – despite varying in type, strength, and defence – have similar, small attack patterns that make them a bore to fight. Only in numbers do they become a significant challenge, but not a clever one, mind you.
That's not to say that there's nothing of value elsewhere. The general movement that comes with the platforming feels great, even if the straightforward level design leaves much to be desired. There are also puzzles spread throughout the interesting mix of fairly open world levels, which usually involve exploring dungeons reminiscent to The Legend of Zelda, which surprised us on occasion with a few competent environmental puzzles and well-hidden objects.
Speaking of which, that is what's most interesting about this game: its open world levels, which are bolstered by optional side quests where you can obtain more upgrades to your status meters and weapons, earn points toward unlocking concept art by saving NPCs, or win money by racing on animals in obstacle courses. Anything besides finding upgrades feels ancillary, though, in addition to the camera in close quarters being an absolute pain to deal with while platforming. Furthermore, the disappointing lack of a targeting system during combat is a problem, while the presence of several deviously oppressive encounters grates. The framework for Legend of Kay is great, but everything built upon it is average altogether.
Did we mention that you play as an anthropomorphic cat? Indeed, Kay is a young martial artist in training under his eccentric master, and it's for the best since the island of Yenching has morphed into an empire with the evil Minister Shun and Tak leading their gorillas and rats to rule over the inhabiting cats, frogs, rabbits, and pandas. While the majority of Kay's neighbours and even his master have become complacent with regard to their new overlords, he won't stand for it, so he sets off on a stubborn yet noble path to free everyone from this tyranny.
Now, if there was one thing that we couldn't care less about in this game, it's the banal storyline and everything associated with it. The characters are uninteresting with some being downright annoying, like the average NPCs and Kay. He's a strange character, rarely exhibiting likeable traits since he's a sarcastic, rude feline who's constantly spewing every shade of childish insult involving bananas and cheese at his foes. The only vaguely interesting character is Su Ling, who's trying to fight against the island's invaders by working with those who believe in a forgotten religious practice called The Way – which is hardly explained and barely relevant to the plot – that once united Yenching in peace.
But even she can't save the bare narrative that never takes any interesting turns, let alone make up for some of the characters' motivations and personalities that are poorly conveyed by the writing. The story and characters derailed our beginning intent of wanting to explore and know more about the world.
This issue extends to the cartoony art direction, which is fine in itself, but the settings and races it has to work with are limited. There isn't much ingenuity or whimsy in how this island and its inhabitants look, with generic environments and characters all around that rarely caught our interest. It's a shame that everything just appears "safe", as if the original developer didn't want to go for anything that might seem outlandish or risky in the slightest with its visual direction.
Still, we would be lying though if we said that it looked graphically under par. No, this remaster adds a mighty polish with sharper visuals, a reorganized HUD, and better character models. It meets expectations, but the fact that jarring texture pop-ins, dated animation loops for character expressions, and bad weather effects and assets remain makes us wonder why more wasn't done here.
That goes for the voice acting and sound effects to an almost greater extreme. The former is disastrous, with NPCs droning out inauthentic lines with laughable accents and Kay sounding as dull as a doorknob. A few voice actors for the main cast earnestly tried, but what a drag it was for us since there was no option to skip or speed up any of the slow-paced, filler conversations. What confused us most, though, is that moderately bad language can be heard on occasion, as if it's supposed to be cool and edgy. It's stupid and feels out of place, conflicting with our recommending this title to younger audiences. The sound effects are decent enough, but when you start to notice a bunch of stock audio being used, you start to appreciate it much less. Thankfully though, the soundtrack isn't that bad: it's run-of-the-mill and some music repeats too often, but some tracks have distinct Chinese instruments that drive catchy melodies.
Legend of Kay is substantial, though, with its 15-hour length. The side quests add another four or so hours to your adventure, and for the first go around with this title, they're worth messing around with – especially for some great Trophies to rack up on your PSN account. But while unlocking some of the special features may hold your interest in trying to complete as much as you can, most of the additional content isn't very compelling since the game isn't all that compelling itself.
Earlier, we suggested that Legend of Kay Anniversary should've been a remake, and that may not be a surprise now considering how great it could be if its glaring issues were altered and positive aspects were improved upon. Alas, while kids may be able to look past the problems and enjoy its simplicity, we can't ignore the obvious. The polished graphics, open world levels, serviceable combat, and fairly compelling dungeons are up to scratch, but the title's niggling gameplay flaws, terrible writing, generic visuals, and bland plot and characters don't exactly make it the cat's meow either.