RETRO REBOOT - The Legend of Kage (NES)

There's likely s study that can prove ninja will generally make anything and any situation that much better. Video games, movies, breakfast, weddings, turtles, clothes shopping for a toddler. Place a ninja in the general vicinity, and you got a party on your hands. Or at least a spy and/or vanquishing of a commander during the Sengoku period. The Legend of Kage is takes a different route from Ninja Gaiden's NES brethern and gives you some air soaring arcade action.

This game's opening is one of the most unintentionally funny six seconds I can remember for the Nintendo. The princess you have to rescue gets abducted, but apparently the emperor decided to let his apparently very near-sighting and also not incredibly smart daughter just wander unattended in the middle of a forest, just wide open for kidnapping. This unsmart princess daughter also becomes 100% inert when renegade shinobi assassins swoop in and grab the easy-access hanger hook that sticks from the top of her head like a clearanced shirt at Gordmans. It's only made more absurd when the hero drops in seconds later and can't immediately take pursuit, because in NES games, if you're juuuust off screen, you're long gone.

Developed and published by Taito in 1986, The Legend of Kage is based on the arcade game that virtually plays the same way. Enemies swoop in and you have to defeat a certain number of enemies before a mid-boss appears. Defeat them, and/or meet the requirements (like advancing upwards), and you move on to the next level. When turning this game on for the first time as a kid, it felt a little impressive and exciting. You can leap nearly twenty stories through the air, floating for what feels like and eternity, chuck throwing stars, and use your daggers to deflect enemy projectiles. The lightning is flashing in the night sky as waves of enemies swarm you and you drop them like falling like the Shinsengumi. It's one of those games where you have to press "up" to jump, and you can't control your trajectory. Once you're in midair, that's where you're going. It takes a bit to get used to, but can be quite exhilarating.

It's a fairly short game that can be beat in about ten minutes, and it isn't particularly hard. I've always had a difficult time staying alive in it at first, because I had always been more familiar with Wrath of the Black Manta. For the NES version, you pretty much have to beat it two times, i.e. rescue the princess twice. Each time you save her, the seasons change, which is visually interesting. Maybe it's because my eyes are doing pretty lousy,  the graphics in the second stage is just looks like eyeball barf to me.

The second stage looks like a CostCo box of Nickelodeon expired and leaked through the packaging. All of the hues are just a detriment to my eyeballs. Kage's skin is fleshtone, and the wall is a light enough hue of grey that just makes you look completely invisible. I'm also drawn visibly to the specks of green that pepper the brightly colored wall, so once you toss in the blue ninja leaping across, it just causes my optic receptors to tap out. I actually have to pause the game and stare away for about 30 seconds to get my bearings together. The animation isn't too bad for what it is and the time it was made. I like the way Kage runs, and while there isn't a great level of detail in the enemies, some of them do look pretty decent. I always was a fan of the magical shaman that appears and hurls fireballs at you. I grew up a huge fan of Big Trouble in Little China, so I liked referring to him as one of the Storms. 

Legend of Kage sums up the perfect example of how a good deal of NES games can retain some replay value over the decades, despite their simplicity. There's little in terms of meta that it demands from you, but it's got a great sense of speed and flow. You can acquire power-ups that give you stronger weaponry, which you lose upon being hit. That's a recurring nuisance from 80's games that I certainly don't miss. But it's great to play over and over and try to create no-death runs.

Legend of Kage is nowhere near as iconic as Ninja Gaiden, and probably isn't the household name that black box Nintendo titles like Kung-Fu is, but it's a game that comes up in conversation, and that one friend says, "DUUUUUDE!! I love that game!!". It was a regular rental in our household, we spent various weekends plugging this one in. There weren't many NES action platformers where you had a sensible defensive options, so deflecting and evading in The Legend of Kage provided something fairly refreshing.  try out Legend of Kage, it's some good arcadey fun. There was also a remake on the PSP where the visuals are rendered with 3D models while retaining the core gameplay.

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