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Kengo: Legend of the 9

Developer: Genki | Publisher: Majesco Games
Players: 1 to 2 Player Game | Genre: Fighting

Release Date: 09/11/07

Some may remember that after the commercial failure of ambitious titles like Psychonauts and Advent Rising, the folks at Majesco were in a great deal of financial trouble, at which point they decided to stay well away from risky, expensive projects. This business strategy would seem to suggest that the company would most likely resort to publishing primarily handheld titles and perhaps some Wii software, and indeed, most of their E3 lineup this year was headed to one of Nintendo’s game systems.

Surprisingly, one of the games they were showing was an Xbox 360 title. As Majesco’s sole “next-gen” game, Kengo: Legend of the 9 initially looks like a fluke in their business plan. While not especially stunning in the graphics department, it’s not , and it also has some interesting and unique features. However, in spite of all this, Majesco claims that Kengo is proof positive that next-gen games don’t need to be super-expensive to develop and publish, and to prove their point, they’re releasing the game as a budget title, or at least as “budget” as Microsoft allows for new releases ($39.99).

Kengo: Legend of the 9, the latest in Genki’s series that was originally intended to be a spinoff of Bushido Blade, is a game that seems best described as the Samurai All-Stars. While not super-realistic, the game still allows players to take the role of 9 historic samurai (anyone even remotely familiar with Japanese history will instantly recognize names like Miyamoto Musashi), pitting them against each other in a series of battles vaguely following each character’s real-life story. Of course, the timeline has been fudged a little (the American equivalent would be a game pitting John Smith against George Washington and Ulysses Grant), but when possible the game is set in places these figures often had historic duels in. One famous battle, for example, took place near the sea, and when these two characters clash it does in fact take place on a beach.

Each of the characters has a story that intertwines with the others (there’s no generic “historic samurai tournament” or anything), with each of the game’s 12 locales spread across the different stories, giving players reason to play through with each character. In addition, players learn and unlock new moves and combos for characters as they play through, letting players build up their samurai over the course of the game.

The battle system, while again not nearly as realistic as something like Bushido Blade, still has quite a few intricacies. The fighters switch between three stances that change their move sets, and must strategically parry enemy blows and grapple with them to push them to an area where they might have an advantage. In one area, for instance, a player battling multiple enemies above a river might find it advantageous to push a foe or two down to the riverbed to separate him from the rest of his party, leaving you with fewer opponents in your immediate vicinity. And throughout the game there are “environmental kills” that allow you to get one-hit kills by using specific parts of the environment, such as a log lying low to the ground, or a particularly high precipice to push enemies off.

As it happens, enemies can do the same to you, and they fight you with much the same repertoire as yours, although the common thug isn’t going to have nearly as wide a variety of attacks as a seasoned samurai. Fittingly, the game’s other samurai essentially fill the role of bosses, and will naturally use some of the same moves that you’d be using if you chose them as your character.

Of course, a game like this seems to demand some multiplayer action, and the game looks to fill this need in a rather unorthodox way. While players can indeed challenge each other in 2-player battles locally, at the moment there are no plans for the game to do so online. Instead, in addition to the good old-fashioned leaderboards, players will be able to upload… themselves… for others to download. You see, as you play, the game closely tracks your statistics, the moves you use and the strategy you fight with. It can then create an AI character that others can download, so they can challenge an AO that essentially uses your fighting style. So, in other words, you’ll be able to download the AI version of the game’s #1 player and test your skills against him.

As stated before, the graphics don’t look particularly special at this point, and there’s little reason to suspect that that will change much before the game is released. However, if nothing else, it has good, detailed character models and does look decent for an Xbox 360 game.

Will the game’s unique features, interesting spin on Japanese history, and bargain-pricing make it a success when it’s released this September? Of course, it’s too soon to call just yet, but Majesco seems well on track to releasing a solid low-budget next-gen game. Who’d have thought it possible?

There are a lot of original ideas here. Let’s just hope that the gameplay ends up being deep and engaging enough to make up for its lack of visual pizzaz.

By Jake Mcneill - 07/27/07
ESRB Details: Blood, Violence

Screenshots for Kengo: Legend of the 9

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