Having never actually owned a Sony console besides a PSP that has rarely seen the light of day, this writer had never heard of Legend of Kay before this new HD re-release, so this review is coming with absolutely no expectations. Can it still hold the attention of a complete stranger a decade after its release?
If you tried to convince anyone that Legend of Kay Anniversary was a new game you'd have a very hard time doing so, unless said individual had no experience with games from the Playstation 2/GameCube era. It's not that it's aged badly but it just feels very much like an older game due to the controls, gameplay, and even the menu layouts. You control Kay, a cat who is an apprentice to a great warrior master who is constantly drinking himself under the table. You have to use your various weapons and combat knowhow in order to save your village from a totalitarian race of rats and gorillas, and subsequently restore peace to your village and the ones that surround it.
Although getting off to a bit of a slow start, the gameplay rapidly picks up speed and as soon as you've got your hands on a weapon you can perform pretty much every single move in the game, even before the tutorial explains it to you. This is nice as it really gives you a sense of freedom with your actions, but it does mean that any subsequent tutorials may feel a little redundant. Eventually you escape your recently walled village and you're finally on your adventure of a lifetime.
As stated previously, the game feels dated in many ways: some of the animations are quite stiff, and the voice acting has that slightly amateurish quality to it. The graphics have been updated to a degree, but it hasn't made it look anything like a modern game, but then again nobody could really expect that. Thankfully the actual gameplay, although as old as the rest of the game, is unique enough to feel fresh and appealing. The combat mechanics are challenging and require you to think about your position in relation to your enemies at all times; if you're sloppy or lose concentration you're going to suffer the consequences.
Coupled with the combat are various puzzles, challenges, platforming segments and exploration elements that mean despite the fighting being the core mechanic there's plenty of variety to hold your attention. A massive amount of thought has clearly been put into the design of the exploration as well, with subtle mechanics such as only being able to swim for a limited amount of time (you are a cat after all). The developers were even sly to the idea of jumping out of the water repeatedly in order to try and travel greater distances, as doing so will result in your air meter having a chunk taken out of it every time.
Cutscenes are generally delivered using the in-game engine, but more important or lengthier moments of storytelling are expressed through still, comic book-like images. Were it not for the fact that the artwork used is incredibly well drawn these would feel like a chore, but because they're so well presented it makes what could have been a clunky, awkwardly animated cutscene feel a lot more atmospheric and fluid.
It's clear from the get-go that Legend of Kay was a labour of love, and this shines through in this re-release; despite showing a few wrinkles here and there the game stands up surprisingly well by modern standards. If you're a fan of the ever-broadened 'action-adventure' genre this is something you should seriously consider. Think of it this way: bad games don't often get HD re-releases (with notable exceptions such as Night Trap).