The Legend of Kage

Developer: Taito
U.S. Publisher: Taito
Original U.S. Release: August 1987
Virtual Console Release: February 19, 2007
Genre: Action
Format: 64-Kilobyte Cartridge

Based on: Ninja stories, running left, torturous crimes against humanity (or at least the game-loving portion thereof).

Games | Nintendo Entertainment System | Virtual Console | The Legend of Kage

Article by Reibeatall | August 31, 2007

Fun does not exist in this game.

Just like Urban Champion, another early-era NES game, The Legend of Kage was one of the forerunners of its genre. Many greats came from the concepts introduced in The Legend of Kage -- say, Ninja Gaiden and Shinobi, just to name a few.

That isn't to say it was a particularly good forerunner, though. Sure, it contained many staples of the action genre -- power-ups, multiple attacks and randomly generated enemy spawn points -- but it lacked gaming's most important ingredient: Fun.

The game certainly begins with plenty of potential. Princess No-Name is walking through a forest when suddenly a ninja appears from the side of the screen and takes her away. Descending from the treetops like a spider, your character, Kage, comes into view. As he lands on the ground, your career as a ninja warrior begins.

Controls are simple, as befits the way of the ninja. Kage fires his shuriken to the left by default, but they can be aimed with the D-pad. Press the A button and Kage swings his sword, which will kill any nearby enemies or deflect their shuriken. Press up on the D-pad to make him jump and climb trees. And jump he does. When Kage jumps, he jumps high, and far. And once you leave the ground you're in for a ride that you cannot control.

The Legend of Kage is all about running left. From the moment Kage descends from his tree-top hideaway, you run left in pursuit of the princess and her captor. Blue and red ninjas leap from the trees in the hopes of stopping you on your terrific quest by chucking shuriken. It's a game of one-hit kills, both for the enemies and yourself. (You can jump left to avoid the ninjas, but they'll still follow you.)

After running left for what seems like an eternity, you'll eventually come to a point where the screen stops cold and you can no longer run. But still the enemies come, and the gameplay degenerates into waiting there, dodging or killing the identical ninjas that keep pouring out of nowhere. Eventually, a red-robed fire-thrower appears to, uh, throw fire at you. After offing him, level two begins.

Level two also consists of running left and killing ninjas. Surprising! The level ends after you kill ten ninjas, but you can run left as long as you'd like. You know, in case you can't get enough of that hot scrolling action.

Level three begins with an arrow at the bottom of the screen pointing up. So up you jump. And up. Also, up. It's boring, but at least it's not left.

Level four takes place in a multi-floored dojo-like place. It also introduces a startling new gameplay concept which catches many players off-guard: running to the right. After running up several flights of stairs and dispatching ninjas, you arrive at the top, where the princess you've never actually met is all tied up. Once you cut her free of her ropes, the computer takes over as Kage and Ms. Princess jump to the top of the dojo. They run towards, yes, the left, take a leap off the dojo and fly through the air for about eight seconds. At this point, you two land on the ground and run to a familiar looking forest.

A ninja then appears from the right side of the screen and kidnaps the princess again.

So you must go through the four previous levels again. After saving her for a second time, she gets kidnapped again. Going through hell again, you finally rescue her. For real. And what is your grand reward?

Which begs the question: I ran left for three miles for this?

Think this sounds fun? Well, you're wrong. Reading this article is way more fun than you'll ever have playing The Legend of Kage. If you're looking for a good ninja game on the Virtual Console, go with Ninja Gaiden or Legend of the Mystical Ninja? or Ninja Spirit? or Shinobi III? or basically anything that isn't The Legend of Kage.

If you simply want to be out five bucks with nothing to show for it, throw it away. At least tossing cash in the the trash bin doesn't waste precious space on your Wii's built-in memory.

Images courtesy of VGMuseum