Like last year's Contra IV, The Legend of Kage 2 features an extremely tall screen that takes up both of the Nintendo DS's dual screens. For the most part the action is contained to the bottom screen, but it's nice to be able to see what's above you at all times. The game does an excellent job of giving you reasons to check out that top screen, such as allowing you to see who's attacking you and where the safe platforms are. You'll find that a lot of the levels are designed to take advantage of the tall display, so paying attention to both screens is imperative if you want to survive.
Actually, that's not entirely true. For the first half of the game you will barely ever need to pay attention to the top screen, it's a luxury at best. For many of the game's levels it's your job to find your way from the left part of the level to the right, ultimately taking you to a big boss battle. The problem is that these levels can be played like the old Sonic the Hedgehog levels, where you just run through the levels as fast as you can dodging enemies along the way. Thanks to your incredible jumping ability it's hard for the bad guy ninjas to hit you, which takes a lot of the challenge out of the title. Frankly, I was bored by the first six or so levels of The Legend of Kage 2.
Thankfully the game's level designs shift from horizontal to vertical in the second half of the game. As you progress through the game you will discover that a lot of the levels require you to climb vertical platforms, which is more of what you would expect from a dual screened ninja game. The final six levels are extremely interesting, and are the single reason why I would even think about recommending this sequel.
While a lot of old school 16-bit games throw huge bosses in your way, The Legend of Kage 2 takes a far different approach. With only two exceptions, the bosses found in this sequel are no bigger than our heroes. But don't let their small stature fool you, to beat these bosses you're going to have to memorize patterns and have patience. It's during these one on one (and occasionally one on three) battles where the game is at its best, it's fun to watch for patterns and wait for your opening to strike. It still would have been nice to have seen a few more big bosses, but there isn't a boss in the game that I would want to trade.
The graphics and sound feel like they came right out of 1993. This isn't one of those sequels like New Super Mario Bros. where everything is using 3D polygons to create a 2D look; instead this is a sprite-based 2D action game. While it's nowhere near as detailed as what we've seen in other 2D action games on the Nintendo DS, there's a certain beauty to the graphics that can only be accomplished using sprites. My only real complaint with the look of the game is in the characters, which for whatever reason feel like they are much too small.
Sadly like so many old school games before it, The Legend of Kage 2 feels a little too short for its own good. While you could play through the game on multiple difficulty settings, most gamers are going to blow through the game in only a few hours. I managed to beat the game on the standard difficulty in around three hours, which seems awfully low ... even for a budget $20 game. Like I said there are some cool extra modes and secret items to collect, but that alone won't keep you going for much more than another few hours.
Don't let the game's length fool you; The Legend of Kage 2 is a fun ride while it lasts. Sure this is nothing more than a throwback to a different time, but it's full of old school goodness and a cheap price tag. The game will also make you want to go back and play the original game, which is nowhere near as fun as this sequel. There's still a lot more that can be done with this series, I just hope that it doesn't take another quarter century before we see The Legend of Kage 3.
It's the sequel you never knew you wanted; it's The Legend of Kage 2! While it's not especially deep and you can beat it in three short hours, there's no denying that this Taito sequel scratches that nostalgia itch you have. Better still, it retails for a mere $20. The Legend of Kage 2 may not be the perfect 16-bit revival, but it's definitely worth checking out for those who love fast-paced ninja platforming action!
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