Kendo Rage is a bit of an odd duck, or perhaps rather an ugly duckling. The game takes the action-platforming style of the Valis series, gives the game the sense of humor (both in terms of tone and in terms of level and monster designs) of the Parodius series, and the persistent timer of Prince of Persia, and it kind of works.
You play as Josephine, a girl living with her grandfather in rural Japan, at his kendo dojo, where she’d been training over summer break. Well, summer break is now over, so now it’s time to go back to school. She must navigate through 7 stages and fight various bosses in order to get to school on time. However, if she doesn’t make it by 9 AM, she’ll be late.
The game, like Valis, which it takes some gameplay cues from, has a very anime style. However, while Valis took cues from Magic Knight Rayearth, Dagger of Kamui, and Demon City Shinjuku, Kendo Rage takes its cues (as with Konami’s Parodius) from Sailor Moon, Ranma ½, and other comedy anime. Enemies look more stylized and comedic. When characters are hit their reactions are more played for laughs than straight, and the levels are book-ended with comedic cutscenes. That said, I isn’t precisely laugh-out-loud funny, though it does have it’s comedic elements.
From a gameplay and action standpoint, the action stays pretty close to Valis. The character can jump fairly high, though side-to-side movement while jumping is kind of limited. The character is also able to perform high and low attacks, as well as an attack straight up, plus there are three different special powers you can pick up, which are charged by a super-meter. There’s a Thousand-Sword Thrust ability, a split shot, and a laser-styled attack, which are dropped by specific enemies.
However, as is common with most games like this, not all power ups are created equal. The Thousand Sword Thrust deals a pretty good amount of damage, but you practically have to closer then is considered polite on the Tokyo Subway. The split shot works well for groups of enemies, has different ranges based on how much you let it charge, and is excellent at crowd control – and worth bugger-all on single enemy bosses. The laser, on the other hand, while it has a moderate recharge, blasts through everything, goes from all the way across the screen, and has a not unsubstantial duration, which means that if you fire it while jumping you can just rip though a whole side’s worth of enemies, and has a fairly wide beam. In other words, it’s the Wave Motion Gun.
The bosses are a mixed bag. Some are fairly cheap, particularly the Karaoke boss in the ice level, the three fish fight, and transforming mecha. Some are rather easy, like the SD Clone of our Hero. However, on occasion there are moments of brilliance. For example, on level 5 you fight a boss that, essentially is an owl. The enemy has three attacks, each with their own pattern, which are fairly learn-able, but depending on your play style and the weapons you have, you where you attack in this pattern varies nicely, giving some variety in the fight – meaning that depending on the circumstances, the fight won’t play the same way. On level 6 you fight a dark magical girl with a tennis theme. So, rather then just dodging enemy attacks until you close in, instead you bounce attacks back with your weapon, and win by beating a round of tennis, keeping the player on his toes. Finally, the last boss, while he gets a little cheap at times, has various fun nods to other games bosses, including Dracula’s Three Fireball attack from Castlevania.
While I had fun with the game, there is one other fault I have with it – there’s no real “score” in the game – just the time in which you beat it. While this is fine for speed-runs, it doesn’t give it the same replay value or encouragement to go back and explore as other games did. Still, I would say that the game is worth giving a shot. Though I can understand why the game didn’t get much attention at the time, considering that anime hadn’t hit it big yet.