Every new(ish) console has its fair share of ports and remasters, and Nintendo Switch is no exception - especially when it comes to those that previously graced the perpetually sinking ship that was Wii U. And while we’ve been treated to Bayonetta/Bayonetta 2 and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, we’ve also got to contend with less memorable titles such as Legend of Kay Anniversary.
That’s not to say this port of port (the original appeared on PS2 back in 2005) is a bad game as such, but rather it’s simply an unremarkable experience that would have otherwise been lost to time had it not been for THQ Nordic picking up the licence. It does all the things you’d expect a 3D platformer from the mid-’00s to do - the combat is fun, the platforming does its job and the martial arts schtick adds an extra flavour - but even in 2015 it felt undeserving of a remaster. Also it doesn’t help when you just happen to be sharing a platform with the majesty that is Super Mario Odyssey.
So while it’s pretty standard fare when it comes to platformers - and a carbon copy of the version you may have already played on Wii U - there are at some mechanics here that are as enjoyable as they were 13 years ago. You take on the role of the titular Kay, an upstart young cat living on an island inhabited by a community of anthropomorphic tribes. With rats and gorillas forming a deadly alliance, Kay sets out to bring balance back to his homeland by unleashing all manner of martial arts.
So you’ve probably guessed where Anniversary’s strongest trait lies: combat. Combos are the big selling point, with myriad movesets on offer along with a directional block system to help counter incoming attacks when you’re fighting more than one foe. There’s a variety of weapons you’ll get your paws on over the course of your journey, with each one offering a distinct style, as well as consumables such as bottled hornets for disrupting groups of enemies mid-battle.
It also plays into traversing the terrain as well, with a press of ‘X’ sending you flying right into the next enemy for another strike. If you can keep your timing right you can zip around a group of enemies in seconds (a la the Batman: Arkham series), or use it to strike rotating bells that enable you to cross large gaps or reach higher ground. It can be tricky to get the hang of, especially when the game changes up weapons mid-combo, but it’s a unique mechanic that helps the rest of its pretty standard platforming fare feel a little less rote.
Unfortunately, the issues with the game’s camera persist, just as they did in the original and in the Wii U remaster. Cameras have often been a problem for 3D platformers, but the twitchy and unpredictable nature of Anniversary’s makes it an incredibly frustrating experience. Attempting to string together a series of combos, or avoid being overwhelmed by a group of enemies increases its difficulty tenfold. Should you stray into an enclosed area where the camera is forced to adapt, then expect to frequently lose sight of Kay.
Level design is hit and miss at best. The Ancient China feel occasionally affords the game some authentically designed buildings or motifs, but on the whole both the look and the general layout of its levels are incredibly dated. Like a lot of the game, its levels feel trapped in a time capsule that’s long been improved upon by other developers in the intervening years. Compared to the creativity and depth of Yooka-Laylee, Anniversary becomes a difficult sell to anyone other than platforming die hards.
Oh, and let’s not even go into the voice acting. While the soundtrack has its moments, the voice work for Anniversary is abysmal. Kay might be the most irritating character in the entire cast, which doesn’t bode well considering he’s the hero of the story, while the various rats and gorillas you’ll encounter will often spout the same cheesy lines over and over during combat. The use of the occasional ‘naughty’ word also still feels bizarre for a game trying so hard to be Kung Fu Panda before Kung Fu Panda was a thing.
From a technical point of view, it’s still a much improved graphical update over the original game. Character models and environments have been given an HD upgrade, although this does serve to show how undetailed and blank some levels are. The frame rate also holds up a little better than the Wii U version, with frames no longer evaporating with wanton abandon when the screen fills with enemies.
Legend of Kay felt dated in 2005, back when the PS2 platforming renaissance was already fading, so its transition to Wii U - and now Nintendo Switch - brings with it all the same tropes that were already out of fashion long before its inception. Anniversary's combat offers something of a saving grace, with plenty of depth to be found with its combos and warping, but you’ll have to contend with camera issues and poor voice acting while you’re at it.