THE LEGEND OF KAGE comes from both Konami and Taito, which used to fill arcades with quarter-sucking cabinets and consoles with cartridges the world over. Taito’s list of titles runs over 40 years and includes classics like Space Invaders, Jungle Hunt, Double Dragon, Pocky & Rocky, and hundreds of others. So if you feel a familiar pull from your quarter holder, you can now place the feeling.
THE LEGEND OF KAGE game, which first graced arcade floors in 1985, seems to have been carefully chosen by HAMSTER Corporation for a PlayStation 4 port because of its modern sensibilities. Now part of the Arcade Archives series, this particular title does have plenty elements of a beat’em up, including the vague plot tasking you with taking Kage through groups of environments for the hand of a captured beauty. The swerves in the story are told visually and simply (e.g. you try to escape, see the way is blocked, turn and run the other way). As far as arcade game plots go, it’s fine: not offensive, as many games from then can be, but the lack of voice acting or that extra layer of sound doesn’t enrich the experience either.
Audiophiles may be intrigued to hear the differences between the two different sound modes available – MSM5232 and YM2203. The former enhances the ambient sounds such as thunder and lightning while slicing away the intricacies of the background music while the latter gives you the opposite effect. Two other modes, Hi Score Mode and Caravan Mode, also come with the package and serve as a leaderboard challenge with only death and a five-minute time limit as your barriers. Aside from the aural differences in the two modes mentioned above, there’s no difference as both play as the original did in the arcade.
You may very well find some of the best arcade gameplay in the beat’em-up genre with Arcade Archives THE LEGEND OF KAGE. The entire experience feels like a 2D version of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon with exaggerated physics and stories-tall leaps. To that effect, it feels like an absolute god-send that you can deflect projectiles as you side scroll against the handful of enemy types. The least dangerous enemies – purple Shinobi – are full of shuriken that can kill you in one touch, and a carefully timed swipe of you Kunai can avert the danger. The same timing can bounce blocking enemies away for you to return shuriken fire, which can be aimed in the cardinal directions only and feels like one of the few limits on attack. Especially with every Kunai swing moving across her entire about three-fourths of his full hit box in defense and offense.
Kage’s hit box feels exceedingly generous as well with streams of fire not instantly killing you until you reach the center of yellow flame. Levels are a plus early on with variety in their end goals, but soon return to the same loop repeatedly. That loop starts fairly satisfying with Kage tasked to kill enemies or scale a tall building early on, but seems tighter and tighter as the triplet of stages progresses. Boss encounters feel varied in their patterns, even if their disposal process is more or less the same. None of these are gripes among the Legend of Kage and its peers as it’s a testament to how the core of player-friendly choices was still around during the notoriously monetary decades of arcades.
There are no continues to milk as each time you die is an effective reset back to the beginning. This version offers an instant save option that effectively operates like a ROM save state to counter this commonality of the day, but instead of instant load, you have to exit to the main menu to relaunch the game to your spot. That extra step seems annoying quickly as other modern ideas such as blocking more than one attack at a time or stopping one projectile with another are absent.
Two hitches of notice appear in Kage’s moves that really hamper busy screens with the first of which being turning around. Tapping in the opposite direction turns his head only, meaning you have to input that direction again to turn his body completely and to protect his weakness – the lower back – from enemy fire. The other is the molasses speed of his climbing, which can spell suicide on busy occasion.
Other than that, and an acceptance of the pixilated, aged-older-than-most-of-its-players graphics, Arcade Archives THE LEGEND OF KAGE is one of the better arcade experiences on a digital store. There are smart ideas in this package that stand the test of time and ultimately keep the other, not-so-fresh aspects from falling too low. Whether you’re looking to test your skills against this classic enemy or just relive some arcade action, Arcade Archives THE LEGEND OF KAGE does the trick about as well as any other from its era.
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