If you were born in the eighties (or later), it’s possible you’ve never heard of the original Legend of Kage. It hit the arcades in the mid-eighties and then moved on to the NES a few years later. Although a shallow side-scrolling action game with only four “real” levels (they just repeated with different seasons coloring the leaves in the trees), it had one gimmick that excited every kid that found it in the arcade: your little ninja could make spectacular leaps. Think Mario’s considerable hops increased to several times the height and distance. We’d never seen anything like it before, and the exhilaration of soaring amongst trees while throwing shuriken at other hyper-leaping ninjas was something special. Even if the game as a whole was anything but.
Enter The Legend of Kage 2, now for the DS. The mega-jumps are still here, but their forward momentum has been neutered. It’s not a huge deal, but it misses out on the most exciting aspect of the original. Luckily, everything else it does is an improvement. There is a respectable variety of enemies and environments, and a host of ninja moves to let you cut loose and feel like a badass. Playing as Kage, your main actions will be slicing with your sword, tossing ninja stars like a model tosses cookies, and super-jumping literally hundreds of feet into trees and onto rooftops. Wall running, ceiling hanging, magic spells, and dash attacks add to the arsenal that completes the supernaturally-agile ninja feeling.
You’ll need all these tricks to survive. This game is hard; make no mistake. The first level is very easy, letting you get the hang of things, but the game immediately ramps up the punishment with the second boss, and just gets more difficult for the most part. A couple of bosses are strangely easier than what came before them, but most of them took us an average of ten attempts to defeat them. Boss after boss seems impossible at first, but eventually enough persistence reveals an easier way to beat them. It’s a well-designed system, assuming you have some patience, since it’s very satisfying when a boss does finally go down.