Review by aludlam

""Mark of Kri" with some interesting new mechanics"

You know, I can't figure out why there aren't any other reviews for this game (as of Dec 2006). Rise of the Kasai is a sequel to the sleeper hit "Mark of Kri", which garnered both critical acclaim and mostly positive reviews from gamers. Yet this title appears to have slipped under the radar. I'd like to convince you that this title is definitely worth a look, especially if you enjoyed "Kri" (if you didn't, take a pass on this one).

Story - "Rau is Dead"

*gasp!* No, I'm not revealing a spoiler. You are told this immediately upon starting a new game. As with the last game, the story is narrated by Rau's bird Kuzou. The Oracle tree is talking to you, and tells you that Rau, the mighty barbarian, has met his demise. In order to understand what has happened, the oracle insists you revisit past memories, revealing the story of how the events leading up to Rau's death came to pass. So the entire game is, essentially, one big flashback.

Admittedly, the plot is a little contrived. You'd think maybe something happened to Kuzou to cause him to lose his memory, or maybe something catastrophic has happened to the world that shattered all written records, forcing the mystical oracle tree to piece together the information from the memory of a very smart bird. But no, the device is never really explained. It's just a way to tie the missions together.

Despite the contrived nature of the plot device, the plot itself is not bad. In "Mark of Kri", Rau was hunting down "spells" (tattoos with hidden powers) to keep them out of the hands of bad guys. Here, you're doing something similar - hunting down priests who either currently have or are seeking ancient spells. Only this time, you do so alongside your sister, Tati, who is now all grown up and more than a little angst-ridden. The story is largely Tati's story - the development of her powers and personality, her inner battle with dark forces, etc. I wouldn't call it compelling stuff, but it's definitely good.

Controls - See previous game

If you've played "Mark of Kri", you won't find many new surprises here. You can switch between 3 melee weapons and one ranged weapon, each with different attack styles. Target enemies by sweeping the right analog stick, and attack the assigned enemies with the button that appears over their head. If you've only got one button assigned, the others allow you to string together combos, which you will need to do to efficiently kill things. You can also sneak up behind enemies for stealth kills if you are unarmed. There are only slight differences between the multiple characters, with the major standout being Tati's puffers (which function exactly like proximity mines). I know I sound a little bored - it's not that there's anything wrong with the controls, it's that there has been very little innovation between the last game and this. But, by and large, it still works.

Graphics - Cartoony mayhem

Once again, if you've seen the last game, there's not much here to surprise you. It's the same cartoon-like appearance mixed with ultra-violent, extremely bloody combat. It's still a really weird combo, but it works well enough.

Gameplay - A little something extra

While the core combat/stealth system from "Mark of Kri" has been retained, a new fundamental mechanic has been added - you now have a partner.

You play as one character in a team of either Griz and Baumusu (for "in the distant past" memories) or Rau and Tati ("recent past" memories). For most memories, the two characters will take slightly different paths, venturing off away from each other before merging back to the same path again. There is built-in replayability there, because a single level really needs to be played at least twice (once with each character) to really see everything in the game.

Luckily, the characters themselves control a little differently, which provides a unique experience. While the combos and types of weapons are identical, Tati/Griz are a little quicker than Rau/Baumusu. They can't swing their heavy weapons as quickly, but their light weapons allow them to outrun enemies and dance around to avoid damage a little better. Plus, Tati has puffers (explosive mushrooms), which require a bit of strategic planning for optimal efficiency. The only downside to the partner mechanic is that if your partner dies, the level ends. Luckily that doesn't happen often. They'll never die if they're not near you, and rarely get in trouble when you battle together. You mostly just have to watch out to make sure you don't spring an environmental trap on your partner or explode a puffer in Rau's face (which can kill him if he's injured).

If the gameplay suffers from anything, it's difficulty. The vast majority of the game is simply too easy. The only challenge comes from trying to complete specific tasks (level challenges) that will unlock arenas (which in turn allow you to unlock bonus content). That is, until the final boss, when the difficulty suddenly ramps up to be nearly impossible without a cheat.

Extras - Costumes and Art

You have to jump through several hoops to unlock bonus content - first you complete the level challenges, which are occasionally mundane, but can also require you to specifically concentrate on one for the entire level. Luckily you need not complete all challenges in one sitting - once you complete one, it's considered complete for all subsequent replays of the level, as well. Once you complete a level challenge, an arena unlocks, which is basically just "kill kill kill", also with specific challenges associated with it (eg, kill 2 enemies with headshots from Rau's bow). Completing all those challenges unlocks the bonus content.

As stated before, if it weren't for challenge completion, the game would be (mostly) too easy. Trying to complete these tasks, though, adds enough difficulty and replay value to make the game a challenging and rewarding experience.

Summary - I like it.

I have to hand it to the designers - there were a lot of pitfalls that could have ruined this game, but they sidestepped every single one. The partner mechanic could have been an extreme source of aggravation, but was implemented smoothly. Ditto for the puffers, split pathways through the level, and some very well done boss battles.

Rise of the Kasai takes "The Mark of Kri", gives you a partner, and extends the story. You can coast through the story, or challenge yourself to unlock bonus content. Overall, a very solid title, and well worth your time.

If you're the type who doesn't care about unlockable costumes or art, give it a rent, as it will probably take 8 hours or less to complete. If you are a completion perfectionist, buy it. I spent around 25 hours on it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 12/18/06

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