We are currently in a period between Zelda games with the HD remaster of Twilight Princess having landed earlier this year and Breath of the Wild due out in March 2017. Even so, players itching for a new Zelda adventure are left in a state of anticipation for the next seven months. Luckily, the folks at studio Librage were gracious enough to work on a quick fix to help tide us over in the form of their charming Zelda-like title called The Legend of Kusakari. With a combination of solid gameplay and delightful aesthetics, this cute hack-n-slash may not keep players occupied until March, but should at least provide an amusing on-the-go experience.
In this particular adventure, the player takes command of Shiba Kari, one of the subjects of the kingdom of Southern Cross. The evil Demon King and his minions have decided to invade Kari’s home and throw it into chaos with constant battles between the Demon King’s monsters and Southern Cross’s brave warriors. Seeing the turmoil around him, Kari decides to pick up his scythe and “join the fight.” Though he isn’t going to be bothered with fighting the monsters head on, Kari has decided to maintain a well-groomed lawn for the soldiers of Southern Cross to fight upon.
The very light-hearted story outlined above more or less describes the gameplay to a tee, as the player is responsible for hacking and slashing through swathes of weeds and grass. In the game’s primary mode, the goal is to reach the end of its 50 stages before Kari’s health gauge — a Zelda-esque heart meter located at the top of the screen — is completely drained. This heart meter depletes naturally over time — a little more rapidly over rough terrain and with any unfortunate bump or run-in with creatures on the map. As such, players must think carefully about how their enemies (and even allies) move around the map so they can cautiously, but quickly, navigate the field while mowing each piece of the lawn. Though health depletion is inevitable in most stages, well-placed blue grass will replenish some strength to our brave little warrior. In some stages, there will be a special glowing blue grass the replenishes the hero’s health in full.
As for hedging these greens (and blues), Kari is able to trim away with the standard “A” attack or with the special “B” spin attack. The player will need to use these two attacks smartly as the lawn grows in patches, much like the greens found on the routes of Pokemon or the lush fields of Hyrule. Luckily, because of the simplicity of these attacks and the grid-like grass map, most players should have an instinctive familiarity with the controls from the moment they pick the game up.
This is not to say that there is a lack of depth, as the game makes use of powering-up the spin attack through play and a speedy dash. Each swipe at a piece of grass will contribute toward leveling up the spin attack, with each increased level adding a wider area of effect and more power to quickly take down large shrubs. To track the spin attack’s power, the game provides players with a scythe level indicator next to the health gauge; however, it does not tell how close or far away players are from leveling up, nor does it tell you how much of the power is used. While a mild nuisance, this is not that big of a problem as level designers made sure each stage is manageable with only the standard attack — though later stages will definitely make players relieved that they have the spin attack at their disposal.
The dash, which the player is taught to use in an early stage, is a great pairing to the two attack options as it carries a bit of momentum. If either of the attack buttons are pressed while dashing, Kari will execute his attack but will also slide forward a little as he slices through air or grass. As the game progresses, the dash and attack momentum becomes increasingly critical to the success of the player as stages become larger and occupied with more dangers that require careful use of these techniques to pass.
As mentioned above, none of these attacks will actually be used against the enemies, per se, but rather to avoid them and strictly strike down tall grass. As the stages progress, the player will be introduced to newer enemies who move in different patterns, and even some negligent allies who will cause equal damage. It’s going to be critical that players learn how the different enemies move around their prescribed areas. For example, later stages will be covered with circling slimes or become host to back and forth battles between a Southern Cross soldier and the Demon King’s monsters.
However, because of how often new enemy patterns are introduced, memorizing them can feel like a chore. Since longer stages can generally be cleared in two or three minutes (with the shorter stages being manageable in under a minute), players will be subjected to these new patterns every three or four stages. At times, it feels like these patterns are necessary as the speedy nature of the stages may often make them feel repetitive, and the new monsters ensure that the difficulty will at least keep players on their toes. In later stages, on screen obstacles like trees are added to the mix, as are raised platforms the player must successfully traverse. While the act of trying to navigate narrow paths without falling back to a lower part of the stage does increase difficulty, it can often simply be frustrating. Luckily, the game provides a map on the lower screen with uncut grass marked, so any frustrating or dangerous areas can be avoided if not necessary.
That said, the game is not really too difficult, but the aesthetic style and sound of the game does not necessarily promise that. It promises levity and it delivers in spades with punchy colors and a humorous soundtrack. With the top-down art style and backgrounds taking noticeable cues from The Legend of Zelda’s SNES days, there are shades of other RPG classics of the era present as well. A prime example being the bright blue of the game’s most common slime monsters, which harkens to a particular Akira Toriyama drawn Dragon Quest mascot. What’s nice about this is that, for older players (or retro gamers), this sparks a bit of nostalgia that helps bring them into the world of the game. In addition, its contrasting colors make it easy to keep track of what’s happening on-screen. It’s a nice mix of form-meets-function. While most of the sprites don’t have exhaustive detail, the artists made sure to use simple lines and curves to give them plenty of character — like the scarf/bonnet that adorns Kari’s head.
What truly shows this game’s character, though, is the lovely soundtrack. According to the developer, the trumpeters are supposed to be sent by the King himself to cheer on Kari. But after just a bar or two bars, one off-tune little trumpeter will fall flat or play sharp, which personally drove me into laughter. These little trumpeters, and their one friend who needs a bit more practice, serenade the player around the title, before battle, and after successfully completing a stage. During actual gameplay, players are greeted with more traditional RPG orchestral-styled pieces, projecting a sense of danger. On the other hand, the up-tempo evokes more urgency when Kari is low on health.
Outside of the normal Mission Mode, the player can choose Endless Mode or peruse the Greenthumb Almanac. Endless Mode is more or less a “survival mode” where the player hacks away at a huge field of regenerating grass until Kari runs out of health — the objective being to get a new high score and last as long as possible each round. Scores can be compared online to see who managed to do the best, but otherwise, this challenge offers only a brief distraction from the main game. Meanwhile, the Greenthumb Almanac is an achievement list which gives the player incentive to replay stages; players can view what special conditions they must meet in order to earn a stamp for its corresponding stage. Conditions can range anywhere from beating the stage without getting any blue grass to avoiding enemies or completing a stage without wasting a single swing of the scythe.
In the end, The Legend of Kusakari is a well put together and thought-out game. The developers have clear inspiration from The Legend of Zelda series with nods to other series’ sprinkled throughout in art style and gameplay. With notes of humor and simple mechanics, the lighthearted game does have some splashes of depth despite, at times, feeling repetitive. While the game does show some difficulty and boasts an array of 50 stages (each with its own challenge for the Greenthumb Almanac), it will not hold players over until Breath of the Wild. However, at $4.99 on the eShop, it definitely is no disappointment and provides something to pick up and play quickly during short breaks or commutes.