Muted Seething at Best – Super Nintendo – Kendo Rage – 1993

Kendo Rage (U) [!]002Kendo Rage
Super Nintendo
Seta U.S.A. / Affect
Genre: Action Platformer
1993

Plain and simple confession right up front before this article commences: I absolutely adore “magical girl” anime.  I think there’s something to be said for a genre that emphasizes friendship, inner strength, and over-the-top transformations and special powers.  I grew up watching Sailor Moon among other cartoons in the morning and when I started dabbling back into anime, I managed to find a few series that fit the tropes that still hooked me today.

When I was a kid, I visited one of the three rental places in town and came across a copy of Valis IV for the Sega Genesis. I popped it in and played it non-stop until I had to bring it back.  While I don’t remember renting it again, I do recall that it felt like the closest thing to a Sailor Moon game that I had seen, given the young girl protagonist transforming into a sword-swinging warrior fighting off grotesque enemies as she tried to save her world.  Given my fantasy-slanted role models growing up, it was no surprise that I would gravitate toward games and heroines like that.

This story is not about Valis, however.  This story is about Kendo Rage, a game that looked a lot like Valis on its cover- and turned into something a bit different once the game powered on.  I’ve turned the game on a few times since the first time I played it, but I finally completed it recently, once again finishing up a memory from my gaming past that was incomplete.  Given the twenty-five or so years of build-up it had gotten, I have more than a few thoughts to share on this little-known title from the Super Nintendo’s golden years.

Plot

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To be fair, learning how to combat fedora-wearing ghosts is actually useful

Our story opens on a young girl named Jo, a trainee in the art of kendo, a martial art which involves the use of bamboo swords. Traveling to Japan, she arrives at her cabin quarters, excited for her first day at kendo school.  As she gets ready for her six-mile trek, however, her mentor Osaki (or Bob, as he encourages her to call him) appears to let her know that she will be training all the way to school by fighting otherworldly enemies.

Through construction sites, frigid snowfields, and a vast lake, Jo will work hard to temper her craft and make it to school on time, given it’s her first day.  With the protection of an idol from an ancient spirit, she will draw upon the power to harness elemental sorcery through her sword and defeat those who would stand in her path to martial education.  Of course, there will be plenty of tongue-in-cheek jokes and unexpected challenges along the way- but what would you expect from a fiery high school girl who bursts into flames of anger when she’s called by her full name?

Kendo Rage’s plot, for comparison’s sake, is very “Americanized”, as a lot of games tended toward back in the time that it released.  In the original, a young kendo practitioner by the name of Mai is asked by a spirit detective to help destroy a host of monsters and ghosts that are terrorizing the city.  While this is no less flimsy than the “spunky school fights her way to class” plot that the US received, the Japanese plot sounds a lot more like an actual anime series. The concepts of spirit detectives and the like may have been lost on the target audience, but I find it strange that the American version tacks on more story points instead of less from all I’ve read.  Either way, though, the developers gave a bare minimum to set up for a platformer so the story really does become inconsequential after the opening scenes.

Mechanics

Kendo Rage (U) [!]047

Digging the cutscenes and some solid Jo attitude between levels

Given the nature of the game by its description, the basic mechanics are not hard to imagine.  Moving Jo around the environment consists of using the directional pad and pushing a button to jump.  Push another button and Jo swings her kendo sword to attack the enemy. Jo’s capabilities are governed by two bars in the lower left portion of the screen.  Her HP bar shows a rough estimate of how many hits she can take before she loses a life (on average, about four hits will deplete the bar fully). Another bar gradually fills in between attacks, signaling how much strength her next attack will use.  The further along the bar is, the more damage she’ll do to an enemy, encouraging more than just button slamming to effectively engage in combat.

Along the lines of combat and the strength meter, Jo can also collect an elemental orb every so often.  Each color represents a respective element- red for fire, blue for water, and so on- and results in a different base attack.  The Earth orb grants Jo multiple strikes, for example, spreading her melee attack vertically for less of a chance to miss while the Water orb allows for a small energy wave to extend her attack horizontally.  If the second meter is full, however, certain orbs will also produce a magical effect like a stream of flame that spans the screen’s length or a spread burst of spirits that will attack a large area in front of Jo.  While some of these seem clearly better than others, it honestly comes down to taste so far as which element to choose as none of them seem to be more effective against certain enemies over others.

Simply enough, the game doesn’t have much else going for it mechanically. That may not be such a bad thing, though, given some of the intricacies involved in the game’s design.

The Good, The Bad, And…

Kendo Rage (U) [!]011

One of the few self-aware and chuckle-worthy jokes Jo makes

Compared to other games of the era, this game feels incredibly clunky for a few reasons.  Hit collision is spotty, resulting in some attacks turning out utterly useless and allowing a projectile or enemy to ignore Jo’s sword and damage her.  This would be more irritating and less infuriating if some of the mechanics of boss fights didn’t rely on being able to deflect a number of incoming attacks to win them. This really comes down to an issue of flawed design on the part of the programmers, but given the issues with hit detection in a lot of early games, this isn’t uncommon. It’s a recurring pain point, though.

On the topic of flawed design, though, Jo also has a terrible tendency when you attempt to turn her around to do something like attack an incoming enemy or jump in a different direction to dodge something.  She’ll take a small half step back, creating a pause where she won’t turn in the direction that you want her to but instead continue facing the direction she already is before completing her turn. The number of times that I attempted to turn and attack something and wound up swinging Jo’s sword the wrong way was unforgivably high.  No amount of exposure to the game’s mechanics ever made me feel completely comfortable with how the protagonist maneuvered so while the game isn’t terrible, I don’t have a lot of fond memories of “cool things” I did throughout my adventures.

Nothing about Kendo Rage honestly sticks out to me in this form.  It’s a very middle-of-the-road action game that is just fun enough to keep a gamer’s attention but not so well-designed as to keep that attention for too long.  The jokes are smirk-worthy but the game relies on that humor for the entirety of the dialogue in the game, feeling like a less quirky Monster Party for the most part.  It is also too difficult to feel like you could beat in a few sittings but just easy enough to justify trying again when you recognize the patterns of the bosses and levels.  In a rare instance, I’m struggling to find a stark positive note in this game’s construction, but it’s not because it’s a terrible game. It’s the fact that the game feels so mediocre in almost every respect.

Presentation

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My favorite boss fight of the game- with the worst hit detection of the game

Even the music in Kendo Rage is fairly mediocre, though there are a few standouts namely in The Pond and The Technodune stages.  The end level’s theme would be another one but, in one of the usual crimes of the time, it plays out for too long due to the length of the level and becomes grating.  The sound effects are all nice, though, and this is where being average pays off as the sound design is well crafted enough to avoid many of the pitfalls of the time.

Visually, the game is sharp.  Again, nothing special, but the bright anime inspired graphics are pleasing and plenty of the levels spark that memory of fight sequences from Sailor Moon and other shows in the same vein.  By far, the best artwork is in the larger sprites like Jo and the bosses of each stage and the cutscenes, as should probably be the case anyway.  At the very least, the bonus to this over some of its sister games is that Kendo Rage always feels like it has something new to look at.

Conclusion

I guess I can honestly say that knocking this out of my backlog is probably the most impression Kendo Rage is going to leave on me.  It’s cute. It’s quirky. It’s only an hour or two long from end to end.  Neither the publisher nor the developer seems to have made much of note, either, so the historical pertinence of the game is iffy.  Really, Kendo Rage could disappear from the annals of video game history without so much leaving a wayward ripple.

Is it a bad game?  Not particularly. It won’t make any “top five worst” lists or anything. If you want to try a game like it, though, there are plenty of other options that will leave more of an impact.  If you’re a serial completionist or something, you should check it out but beyond a Japan-only fighting game sequel and an anime OVA, it truly hasn’t left a legacy. Pick it up if you need to complete your SNES collection and move on to another title to actually get a worthwhile gaming experience.

2 thoughts on “Muted Seething at Best – Super Nintendo – Kendo Rage – 1993

  1. Anyone who was alive back then has doubtlessly rented a few turkeys from the video store. I remember experiencing the horrible Mario’s Time Machine in such a manner. I was so confused as to why the game wouldn’t acknowledge the fact that I clearly won when I reached the right edge of the screen.

    Anyway, this kind of comes across as one of those “good idea, bad execution” deals. I get the feeling if I were to play it, I’d end up giving it a 2/10 or 3/10.

    Like

    • I think I had a similar issue with Mario is Missing! I eventually understood what was happening, but my vigor for getting to play as Luigi trying to find his brother turned into a much less fun adventure than I expected (though I am tempted to go back and try to play that again now that I’m older and of a different mindset, haha)

      Yeah, sadly, I know I’m a bit too lenient with some games, but this was a tough one to shine a positive light at for too long. The final area alone felt more like the game was trying to beat the player rather than challenge, and that’s something I’m not a huge fan of. I feel safe that my nostalgia filter didn’t do much for this one in the long run.

      Liked by 1 person

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