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We take a sneak peek at Austrian publisher JoWood’s latest offering following the adventures of a Cat called Kay…
When looking for a strong character driven platformer, itâ??s highly unlikely that the German publisher JoWood would be the first name to spring into gamers minds; however that perception looks to change with the forthcoming release of The Legend of Kay, bringing comparisons to classic Rare titles thanks to its strong characters, creative puzzles and enjoyable gameplay.
So it was with a healthy dose of cynicism that we sat down in front of the TV in TVG Towers to play the preview build of JoWoodâ??s third person Action/Adventure title, The Legend of Kay.
The Legend of Kay takes place in the archipelago of Yenching, where for years the four animal races (Cats, Rabbits, Frogs, and Pandas) have lived in peace and governed by â??The Way,â?? where they saw the essential goodness in all things. Yenching is based on feudal China and Japan, and there is an element of Far Eastern philosophy set in the inhabitants in the game. In each of the villages is a well with water that nourishes both the body and the spirit. As always however, the animals became complacent and failed to follow The Way, and the wells dried up â?“ which is when the Rats and Gorillas came and occupied the lands of Yenching, and this is where the game actually beginsâ?¦
Kay, as in The Legend of, is an adolescent cat who fantasises about becoming a great warrior. At the start of the game though, heâ??s tutored by a has-been master who now spends far too much time drinking, and lectured by an idealistic friend that there should be an uprising against the occupying Rats and Gorillas.
A number of years ago, the supreme master developer of creating strong animal characters in videogames was undisputedly Rare. Creators of the Banjo-Kazooie series along with the amiable Conker, Rare managed to inject charisma into digitally created animal characters on a level never seen previously. Since the heady days of Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Kazooie, the company has switched allegiance to Xbox with the under-whelming Grabbed by the Ghoulies, although we do have high hopes for the aforementioned Conker title. Comparisons between The Legend of Kay to these aforementioned titles may seem a little off the mark given the gap in pedigree between Rare and the relatively unheard of Neon Studios, creators of the Amiga and MegaDrive title Mr. Nutz, but donâ??t hold that against them as The Legend of Kay is shaping up to be a worthy title for fans of this genre.
The character of Kay does have many cat-like qualities and it is testimony to the developers who evidently spent a lot of time researching the odd feline or two. Agile and independent, with a certain amount of arrogance, Kay is very much a cat recognisable to anybody who has ever encountered or owned one; if cats were fans of videogames, then they are sure to hold Kay as a role-model for their kittens to look up to and respect.
It has to be noted that the preview build of Legend of Kay that we played was not structured, instead we had a sample of various bits from levels taken from the game; so whilst it has enabled us to get a good grasp on what the final game may be like, some of the elements in the code werenâ??t quite as obvious as they might be in the completed release. What can be said, even after playing this build, is that Legend of Kay seems to have a very balanced mix of action and puzzles across the levels. And itâ??s not just the well balanced gameplay and solid feel to the title that bodes very well.
Visually, the game has a definite cartoon style and wonderful animation, yet there is good level of detail. The visual effects when Kay swings the sword really helps to show the determination in the character as he fights the rats and gorillas, and the environments are over-saturated in all manner of colours. The characters, both Kay and many of the others, seem to have developed with a lot of thought and time â?“ and so far at least â?“ this seems to have paid off.
The HUD for the most past is compact and relatively coherent, with a map on the bottom-left hand side that can be flicked on and off with the press of the D-pad, through to the HUD-In-One object in the bottom-right corner that displays everything from the number of lives left to the items that Kay is currently carrying (try saying that quickly!) One of the things that we did notice is that Kay has eight lives, which seems a bit strange to us considering that cats are supposed to have nineâ?¦
The control system in the game is very intuitive to the extent quite early on, you find yourself not having to think which buttons do particular moves. Largely due to the fact that the developers have relied upon established mechanics from previous 3rd person Platformers/Action/Adventures such as Ratchet & Clank, etc. What the developers have seemingly successfully created in the game is, quite simply, one of the best camera systems that weâ??ve experienced in the genre. The system, especially in combat, is fluid and precise and is so smooth that you canâ??t really appreciate how good it actually is until you to stop to think about â?“ like every good feature in a game or the depth of sound in a movie. The camera constantly keeps focussed on the action, so you can forget about cursing at characters that you didnâ??t see dealing a fatal blow, because this just doesnâ??t happen in Kay; instead, youâ??ll move around vanquishing your enemies without having to worry at all about the camera. If this technique could be patented, then the developers wouldnâ??t have to worry about any other revenue streams, because the licensing of the camera system would bring in the cash quite easily.
The combat is the typical blend of button-bashing, although thereâ??s a definite sense of style and flow throughout, thanks mainly to an enjoyable combo dynamic and the fast and responsive nature of the main character. Itâ??s this level of simplicity and uncomplicated, entertaining gameplay that lends Kay a feeling of the classics from previous hardware generations, although thatâ??s not to say that it canâ??t hold its head high with the likes of Jak and Sly Racoon.
As with most games in the genre, pots and chests are found strewn across the environments, each filled with treasures ranging from the usual health and magic top ups, to suits of armour. Gypsy styled caravan shops can also be found in the game allowing players the chance to purchase a wide range of upgrades and weapons including bombs, flash bombs, potions, the aforementioned armour, and quite interestingly â??Tips of the Day.â? In between the excellent puzzles and enjoyable combat, the game features a number of mini-games to spice up the action, such as jumping on to wild boars for a roller-coaster ride through the environment to fast-paced boat races.
It has to be said that during our experiences with the preview build there were very few flaws that we noticed, however if we had one criticism it would have to be the dialogue. The voice artist who played Kay is adolescent, reflecting the age of the character that heâ??s portraying, but both the dialogue and the actual voice does on occasion make the protagonist seem a bit â??Anakin Skywalkerâ?? leaving you to expect Kay to shout â??Yippee!â? with the sort of glee generally reserved for pre-school TV shows. The actual dialogue is very Western, with lines such as â??dumpster breathâ? and â??ratty dip-wadsâ? enough to make you cringe â?“ we know that in anime there is a combination of West meets East, but why make Kay sound like the sort of kid that Halo2 Live! gamers have to put up with on a regular basis?
It has to be said that on occasion, questions were raised about the level design of the game, such as in the swamp environments. There was no clear indication of routes, and whilst there is of course no need to be handled through the levels, it would be nice to have some sort of coherent path to follow instead of falling in to the deep mud and drowning on repeated occurrences â?“ perhaps this is one of the few areas that Kay falls short to the likes of Banjo & Kazooie, Jak and Ratchet & Clank.
The disjointed nature of the preview build did leave a few features in the dark, such as the purpose of the crystals that Kay collects and the solution for some of the puzzles that we faced; however weâ??re hoping that further explanation will come in the final build and not leave us staring at the screen blankly.