When publishers commission games out to development studios, do they actually bother to consider how crowded the market is beforehand, or are they so mind-numbingly arrogant to believe that going down the me-too route is somehow a worthwhile strategy? Case in point - Eden Studio's Kya: Dark Lineage. We've literally lost count of how many cutesy platform games have landed on our desk for review over the past 18 months or so (it's definitely over 20), and do you know how many of them have been hits? About two of them. Even the very best have floundered. What makes Atari think this is going to work where near-classics like Sly Raccoon and Voodoo Vince failed so dismally?
So here we are with Kya. A perfectly pleasant game with cute, well-animated characters, bright environments and fairly inoffensive multi-genre gameplay, but it's simply so painfully based on the Jak & Daxter template it makes the hairs on our palms itch. There's being inspired by something, and then there's absolute thievery, and most of what we've seen in this game just had us rolling our eyes from the opening credits onwards.
The inexplicable portal, good to see you again
The kick off is hardly a great hook. Decide for yourself: a purple-dreadlocked lady by the name of Kya finds herself and her brother Frank sucked into some inexplicable portal - a world populated by big-eared furry rebels that call themselves Nativs. But causing havoc is a bunch of insidious Wolfen, which are basically possessed Nativs brought over to the dark side by the nefarious Brazul.
Your job, then, is to 'exorcise' the Wolfen, attempt to restore peace to this troubled land, rescue your brother and put an end to Brazul's fiendish plot. So far so clichéd? Gameplay-wise, it's not exactly innovation a-go-go either, with an initially fast-paced, action-packed intro giving way to predictable fare.
The opening seems promising, when you find yourself running away from pursuers at a hectic pace, sneaking past ruthless Wolfen guards before sky diving and sliding snowboard-style to safety. After that, it's a fairly straightforward case of riding air currents around island-based levels, having inane conversations with Nativs, bopping various enemies until they spew forth currency, and exorcising as many Wolfen as you can find. Wake me up when the review's over, yeah?
Have we seen it all before? Short answer, yes
Armed with a boomerang (guh) and various bracelets which vary your combat style, you gradually unlock various abilities such as climbing and the hoverboard at the shops that spring up across the world as you progress, but for the most part it's a case of simple puzzle solving and beat-em-up style combo mechanics to get you through the rest. As much as you try, the game's core kleptomaniac mechanic just feel forced and part of this is over familiarity with an incredibly saturated genre, but the most crucially lacking element is in the characterizations, which feel weak, cheap and second rate, with a script that lacks wit and charm and moribund voiceovers that can't hope to save it.
The difference with many other similar titles were these totally overlooked factors, and certainly areas where the US-produced, Sony-backed trio of Jak, Ratchet and Sly score highly every time. Literally anyone who has played the many greats in this genre will just be staring at their TVs wondering why they're bothering.
But perhaps the most startlingly lack of inspiration comes in the one area they could have differentiated the product - the visuals, which, while perfectly acceptable in the sense that all the ingredients are there in terms of big, exaggerated cartoon characters that are well animated on bright, Day-Glo environments, you just can't help but wince at the total lack of originality of it all. Any game that simply lacks its own identity in this way is asking for trouble - you pick it up off the shelves, glance at the box, think 'Ah... sub-Jak & Daxter' and put it back. You'd imagine that playing it makes things better, but the truth is it really only exacerbates the situation.
Neither terrible nor good
We truly wish we didn't have to be so down on Kya. When we saw it back at E3 last year, it had promise, but the stark reality is that although it's not a terrible game, there are so many other better examples in this genre you should consider head and shoulders above this terrifying example of gaming by numbers. In isolation, and if you'd never played any of those competing titles before you might wonder why we're so down on Kya, but our advice is to give this short shrift when (or if) it ever confronts you in your local gaming emporium. 'Ah... sub-Jak & Daxter'. Too true.