Legend of Kay Anniversary Review
Legend of Kinda Okay
You know what I like? Remakes. I like them a lot. Sure, they’re mostly cynical cash-ins riding in on a wave of nostalgia dollars, aimed squarely at the kinds of people who couldn’t critically re-evaluate the works from their childhood if their lives depended on it, but that’s all just fine business. In an industry obsessed with filling the checkboxes on whatever’s hip and now, they often stand out with examples of design that seem strange and alien. More than sources of entertainment, I like them for puncturing our collective amnesia and reminding us that sometimes things aren’t the way they are because they’re better; sometimes they’re just the latest in a series of trends. And what better game to showcase that than… erm, Legend of Kay? Actually, let me rethink that.
Now, what we have here is a typical Class B PS2-era Action-Adventure Product: one part combat, one part platforming, one part quote puzzles unquote, and the rest filled in with hastily spray-painted Zelda mechanics. Once upon a time they were a dime a dozen, but in this time of gargantuan budgets and open-world everything and RPGs as far as the eye can see, perhaps it’s not a bad idea to rescue a lucky contender from the tyre fire of gaming history, dust it off, and put it on a stage where it stands out a little bit more. Maybe it will gain a bit more appreciation when it doesn’t have to fight for the spotlight.
So, let’s catch up for the benefit of those of you just joining us. In a land that kind of resembles ancient China if it had been colonised by rejected Disney anthros, the all-giving, all-sustaining magical fountains are slowly becoming less magical, causing the good animals - that is, just anything cute and fuzzy - to be invaded by the not as good animals - rats, gorillas, and anything else envious of the former group. You play Kay, an utterly bland cat-person who jumps the gun a little bit and goes out to jump-start a rebellion when his small oppressed village doesn’t have the common decency to be razed to the ground at any point. I think you can guess where it goes from there: fight dudes, acquire money, jump around a lot and eventually defeat the big dude.
The thing about Legend of Kay, a problem that it shares with Wind Waker, is that it’s kind of hard to justify making an HD remake at all when the original game’s visuals are still pretty serviceable. Consequentially, the list of features does smack a little bit of desperate rummaging around in the next-gen makeup drawer: high-res textures, nicer character models, better lighting, a different HUD for some reason, that sort of thing. Usually developers take this opportunity to carelessly swing around rendering stats like wiffle bats in an antiques store, but although the game runs at 60fps (well, most of the time, barring a few slowdowns and lock-ups) the lack of graphics options means that the only way to get it rendering at a resolution above 720p is to cook up your own config file, which is honestly kind of staggering. I wouldn’t normally chew a game out for stuff like this - we have pompous YouTubers for that - but if you’re going to throw a remake out with its primary selling points being ‘you don’t have to dig your dusty PS2 out from under the spider-infested television cabinet’ and ‘it looks prettier’, I’d be feeling pretty damn cheated if I was buying it for the latter.
And of all the things to leave totally unchanged, utterly pristine, why did the voice acting have to be among them? This is not some pricelessly bad Resident-Evil-esque artefact, to be preserved for the amusement and permanent fascination of future generations; this is the kind of misophonic assault that can normally only be achieved with a team of power-tool wielding workmen in a warehouse full of chalkboards, and what makes it all the more astounding is how much of it was done with intent. The rats all have a comically overblown nasal tone that was probably achieved by hammering a kazoo into somebody’s sinuses, and Kay himself, the character who you will hear quip non-stop for the entire duration of the game, sounds like a seventh-grade Let’s Player monotonically reading out every single line of dialogue for the benefit of his illiterate audience. And guess what? Unlike in the original game, there is no ‘skip dialogue’ option until you’ve heard the lines at least once. Your only options are to turn the voices off entirely - not that this does anything to speed up proceedings - or suffer as your ears shrivel up, turn inside-out, and retreat into your cranium in disgust.
Okay, breathe. Breathe deep. Where were we? Retrospective criticism, right. Remember when ‘press X to parkour’ and Uncharted-style spectacle climbing weren’t a thing, and there were companies other than Nintendo putting out 3D platformers? Legend of Kay lives on the trailing edge of that era, and while its platforming isn’t too bad, you can certainly see why they were on the way out. The game has no shortage of platforming elements to work with - ropes to swing on, crossbars to flip over, posts to leap between, crevasses to wall-jump up, rolling logs to balance oneself on, that sort of thing - but there’s very little room to re-use or combine them in creative ways, so challenges tend to just jumble the same elements into different orders and call it a day. It certainly doesn’t help that they brought a mid-2000s third-person camera along for the ride without so much as a disciplinary clip around the ears. Trying to get it to stay in position near a wall is like trying to squash a hastily bunched-up tent back into its bag, and trying to get it to tilt facing up beyond a horizontal angle - that is to say, the one thing you’ll be doing whenever there’s a platform above you - is like trying to zip the aforementioned tent bag closed in the sense that it is literally physically impossible. Whatever. Why would you need spatial awareness during platforming sections anyway?