Monday, December 19, 2022

NES Replay: The Legend of Kage

Developer: Taito
Publisher: Taito
Released: August 1985

With a few notable exceptions, most early games had you locked in a pitched battle against the controls. Developers cared about stealing your quarters while providing the illusion of fun, and so their to-do list for most games was:

1)     Find a way to take money from players.
2)     Make a cute mascot or something.
99)    Make movement fun.

Enter The Legend of Kage (pronounced “kah-gay”). Our friends at Taito had once again cracked a code: people wanted to play games that felt fun to play. Imagine that! 

Released in 1985 for the arcade, The Legend of Kage had you playing a ninja named Kage who’s attempting to rescue a princess. The movement is so fluid that it's the closest thing to a kung-fu video game released to this point. Taito really wanted to make you feel like a ninja. The titular legendary character can leap the entire length of the screen, climb a temple just by jumping, and land on tree branches, all the while firing shurikens at the plentiful ninja who oppose his path. 

The NES port of Kage is missing some key pieces. By way of comparison, Elevator Action was released in 1982 on inferior arcade equipment, and as such could be ported to the NES looking almost identical to its arcade counterpart. The Legend of Kage came out in the arcade in 1985 on hardware that was well beyond what the NES could handle, so there were bound to be a few compromises. 

In the arcade, Kage’s sprite was detailed, with some awesome animations, like looking over his back shoulder when he'd fire a shuriken behind him. The music had a cool edge with a thumping bass line. On the NES, they had to pare down all of that and just focus on the essentials, so the music became tinny and Kage’s sprite became less detailed. 

As much as the extra detail helped the arcade game, for the NES this was the right move. While it certainly doesn't look as cool, Kage manages to mostly keep the gameplay intact from the arcade. Taito had already learned what it took companies like SNK a bit to figure out: Don’t try and cram all the fancy animation into your NES port. That way lies madness. Focus on the basics and everything else will come together. 

Fun side note: The design of the ninja Kage is very similar to the protagonist in another early Taito game from 1984, Ninja Hagane. The big difference is that Ninja Hagane was a laserdisc arcade game (basically a game-long quicktime event). Go check out a longplay of Ninja Hagane, because it looks really neat, even though laserdisc games kind of sucked.

Anyway, The Legend of Kage isn’t a perfect port, but it’s focused on all the right things. Score another early hit for Taito.

Final Rating:


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