Taito has created a brand new Super NES action game for the Nintendo DS. Yes, that's a good thing.
I've never played the original Legend of Kage, but considering it was released over twenty years ago, Taito (and their owners at Square Enix) are probably hoping the sequel will reach a larger audience than just long-suffering fans. The good news is that you needn't have played the classic (and often maligned) arcade/NES original to enjoy this Nintendo DS successor. Legend of Kage 2 is a simple and accessible romp through a familiar, ninja-style action game.
Other than its use of the top screen for extra vertical display, there is little to differentiate The Legend of Kage 2 from a typical Super NES-era game. The goal of each level is to run from left to right, killing scores of evil ninjas and maneuvering through a few obstacles, until you reach a pattern-intensive boss battle. As one of two playable, "good" ninjas, you basically run around and slash at foes, most of whom die in a single hit. The two characters are almost identical except for their projectile attacks.
The most distinctive and recognizable feature of the original Legend of Kage is the unusual jumping height, and this sequel does a nice job of highlighting the absurd agility of its protagonists. The dual screens lend themselves nicely to vertical gameplay, and most of the levels do a good job of giving you reasons to keep jumping upwards. Being able to jump ten times your own height is a strange ability with a steep learning curve, and some of its innate problems persist throughout the game. For instance, it's hard to make a small jump (you have to press the button for just a millisecond), and there's no way to see where you're going once gravity takes over, because the camera doesn't pan down to show your landing trajectory. These aren't major issues in the context of the game's difficulty, or lack thereof, but they do keep the controls from feeling totally fluid and enjoyable.
Another somewhat interesting feature involves collecting orbs to design different ninjutsu (magic). Between levels, you get a grid on which the different colors of orbs can be placed in various patterns. Each pattern of three or four orbs results in a different magic spell, but you have limited space to work with. Efficient use of the orbs and grid spaces will let you use some orbs in multiple combinations to create a useful suite of spells for the next mission. Oddly enough, it reminds me of the "magick" system from Eternal Darkness. As you find more orbs in later levels, it's exciting to go back to the grid and see what new patterns can be devised.
Despite a couple of unusual tweaks, Legend of Kage 2 is an unabashedly conventional action game, the kind that we don't often see anymore. Fans of the original Ninja Gaiden titles will adore this less difficult throwback. It's not incredibly long, but considering the budget price, it's worth a look from anyone who enjoys an old fashioned, slice-and-dice kind of action game.