Instead of attempting technical innovation with touch screen controls like some other ninja action game on the DS the Legend of Kage 2 sticks to the old school. You run, slash and throw shuriken with good old buttons for a good old time. As the “2” in the title suggests the Legend of Kage 2 is a sequel to a 1980s arcade game developed by Taito. The sequel has been over twenty years in the making and Kage has changed a lot. He doesn’t wear a red outfit anymore. For no apparent reason he is shirtless with only a red scarf as homage to his original look. He still wears pants. (Sigh of relief.) While Kage looks different, the run-of-the-mill shinobi populating levels retain the basic red and blue look. But the DS has way more colors than the NES so you encounter other ninja, gray and green ninja. There are other enemies like floating suits of samurai armor and kunoichi, female ninja with two swords, just for the sake of variety.
Your everyday shinobi is no match for Kage. They perish in a puff of gray smoke after a single sword slice or shuriken. But I’m getting ahead of myself talking about the actual game because the Legend of Kage 2 starts with a cutscene. Actually, it starts with a character selection where you can pick Kage or a new female character named Chihiro. I’ll be talking more about her later, but since I chose Kage first we’ll focus on him. His story begins with an elderly man summoning him and after pages of text we see ninja attempt to capture Princess Kirihime. Kage is on the scene and slices through the lone blue ninja to rescues her. While dashing with the princess (who apparently can run as fast as Kage) he meets another shirtless ninja with two blue swords and a blue scarf. This guy has to be a rival. Well, he stabs Kage in the chest, so they’re definitely not friends. Kage can’t die at this point though! A magical orange glow surrounds him and we’re finally into the game. The Legend of Kage 2 has many cutscenes with pages of text. After this one, I skipped all of them. All I needed to know was Yoshiro is the evil target in question and I’m a ninja to play the game. I want action, not a novel.
Finally into the actual game, I noticed Kage jumps unusually high. He can clear an entire screen and rest on the sakura at jump level one. However, he never appears on the top screen, it’s reserved for falling sakura in stage one. Nice touch. Kage also moves very fast once you tap the right twice to make him run. While running his regular flaming sword slash turns into an extended horizontal cut that can slice through enemies. This move can also be used to pass through enemies who don’t die in one hit. Most do. Later Kage gains the ability to run and toss shuriken, which is a much more efficient way to finish off the basic ninja. Passing each level grants Kage new skills like changing his one strike slash into a three hit combo that ends with a burst of flames. At the beginning of the game Kage is still versatile with a forward and backwards air dash, the ability to run up walls and a skill which creates temporary shadow clones. With all the air dashing and high jumps the Legend of Kage 2 gave me the feeling of flying through the sky like in an old martial arts movie. Very cool.
Even with an arsenal of slide kicks and sword slashes Kage doesn’t need to kill much. You can leap from tree to tree on the first level and skip the carnage. It’s a boring way to play the Legend of Kage 2, but you can avoid conflict. I chose to slice every ninja in my path racking up the combo meter and points. In later levels Kage’s dash to the boss is obstructed by dive bombing birds, leaping dogs and ninja on the top screen strapped to kites.
The first boss fight pits Kage against the ninja with two swords who stabbed him earlier. It’s time for revenge. He attacks by jumping into the air and waving both blades. A few dash through sword strikes and he is finished. Although, the battle ends up with Kage wounded regardless of how much life you have in your health meter.
At the end of the second stage, set in a forest under dim moonlight, a fire breathing monk antagonizes Kage. He cycles through three head butts with his enormous eggplant shaped head then stands in one place spewing a short range of flame. While the monk stands still Kage can rapidly throw shuriken, which is an easy way to whittle his life down to the halfway mark. Suddenly, the monk changes his attack plan. He still freezes while breathing fire, but he grows past the bottom screen! More importantly, his blast of flame takes up the entire horizontal range of the screen and you can’t duck to avoid it. The only way to evade a fiery fate is to jump on one of the high ledges and wait for the flames to extinguish. Growing into a giant drains the monk. Afterwards, he momentarily stands in place, which makes completely susceptible to a flurry of sword slashes before reverting to his pattern.
A girl with a devilish grin, wearing an oversized kimono waits for Kage at the end of the third stage. She lobs bombs. Conveniently, there is a hole in her plan, literally a space for Kage to stand and remain unscathed. After a few bombs she grabs more explosives. During this brief period Kage can hit her and blow up the bombs while she is stacking them up. Do this in her turns gray with soot, just like a Looney Tunes cartoon. Then she changes her pattern to hiding behind plants and jumping in the air to throw bombs. Once you knock her out of the sky she stands still, dizzy from the aerial assault. This is the time to strike her with a flurry of orange slashes.
One of my favorite boss fights is against a giant spider. The beginning of this encounter starts with the spider igniting the ground. Kage isn’t fireproof. Standing on the ground isn’t an option. You have to climb on one of the three threads of spider web to attack the beast while he lobs venomous purple clouds and globs of web. You can “phase” though some projectile attacks by timing your ninjutsu. I equipped Kage with a lightning spell which summons a bolt of lightning from the top screen to fry the spider. It locks on and while Kage activates it projectiles momentarily pass through him. Offense and defense in a single move, but ninjutsu power is limited by the meter on the bottom left corner of the screen.
Unlike skills, players get to customize ninjutsu through a series of colored orbs. You have a grid to place orbs and you want to make triangles out of the three colors. If you combine a red, blue and yellow orb Kage gains an aura that temporarily boosts the amount of damage he does. Grouping two yellow orbs with a blue orb gives him a speed up aura. Mixing blue orbs together gives Kage a rotating water shield. I gave Kage a series of lightning attacks by matching a red orb with two yellow orbs for a single lightning strike. Three yellow orbs give him a double blast of vertical lightning. Adding a coveted gray orb at the end to make a parallelogram allows Kage to summon a thunder snake from the sky. While this attack is an awesome sight to see and deals multiple hits it drains much more of the limited ninjutsu meter than a basic thunder blast. Kage does not earn ninjutsu orbs at the end of each stage. You have to find them, which tempts players to try levels over again.
Most of the time, I played the Legend of Kage 2 as Kage. When I switched over to start the game as Chihiro all the ninjutsu orbs I found were not transferred over. Also Chihiro has a shorter lifer bar than Kage and she cannot throw shuriken. Instead she lobs a chain forward, which does more damage to bosses, but has limited reach. Since shuriken kill the standard enemy after a single hit Chihiro’s ranged attack isn’t as useful. Chihiro also has a slightly shorter horizontal distance when standing still and attacking with her sickle. Playing the game with Chihiro is probably more difficult, but I haven’t gotten all her skills yet to see how much of a killing machine she can be.
Many ninja were harmed to create this playtest, just not by Chihiro’s hands.