A large part of what made Rayman 2: The Great Escape such a memorable experience was the idea that a 3D platforming hero could do more than just hop around on platforms and off of enemies, as the game's imaginative use of unique gameplay mechanics followed suit. Eden Games' Kya: Dark Lineage borrows liberally from Ubisoft's outstanding 3D platformer game in terms of both gameplay variety and visual style. But don't mistake "derivative" for "disappointing." Kya is a top-notch production from top to bottom, and the experience of playing it is surely worth the time of any 3D action adventure fan.
Kya: Dark Lineage is set in a colorful, cartoonlike fantasy world, but it's not without some dark corners. The story follows our titular female protagonist as she and her half brother get sucked into this alternate dimension through an arcane device her long-absent father had stashed away. Her half brother Frank falls into the clutches of the evil Brazul, a powerful madman who is quickly turning the friendly Nativs, a race of amiable dog-people, into Wolfen, a race of significantly less-amiable wolf-people. Kya befriends the Nativs, is told that Brazul is, in fact, her father, and then goes on a quest to free Frank and square things up with Dad. The writing in Kya is surprisingly well done and gives Kya and the primary supporting characters a little bit of personality and depth of character, which, in turn, gets you that much more invested in the action.
The gameplay in Kya incorporates just about every mechanic that has shown up in a 3D action adventure game in the past few years. A lot of it is pretty standard stuff and consists of hopping on platforms, flipping switches, collecting various objects, solving some basic puzzles, and engaging in some light combat. Kya has a little boomerang that works well for dispatching certain enemies from a distance, but when she goes up against a Wolfen, she has to use her fists. The combat is pretty simple in the beginning, but as you progress and earn cash, you're able to buy special fighting bracelets that grant you additional moves. Still, the combat basically boils down to tapping on the square and triangle buttons repeatedly, which can become pretty repetitious. There are times, though, when going toe-to-toe with a Wolfen isn't an option. In this case, you have to use a little bit of stealth and cunning. Sometimes you just have to sneak past them undetected. In this task, the game is fairly forgiving. It makes the enemies' patrol routes rather simple and obvious, thus allowing for a good amount of slop. Sometimes you can even use your boomerang--while out of sight--on a group of Wolfen, which will rile them up so much that they'll knock each other out. This seems like an especially clever touch.
Once a Wolfen has been laid out, Kya can use a magic spell to turn him or her back into a mild-mannered Nativ. Nativs who have been restored return to the Nativ village, where they'll help build shops. These shops, which slowly pop up as you free more Nativs, will happily sell you special items that will grant you new abilities, which you'll absolutely need to progress. A few of the first items you pick up include climbing gloves, which let Kya climb up special walls that are overgrown with vines; a Jamgut whistle, which allows you to ride a Jamgut--a very tough two-legged lizard-type creature that can jump incredibly high and smash through just about anything; and a magic board, which is essentially a translucent snowboard that you need to make it through the game's sliding sections (where you'll slide down narrow paths--fraught with peril--at very high speeds).
The most unique and compelling mechanic in Kya is its use of airflow. The world that Kya has landed in is actually just made up of a series of floating hunks of land, which seem to be suspended in this cloudy ether by powerful winds. These winds find their ways into the nooks and crannies of these land masses, and, as such, they're full of wind tunnels that you'll use to quickly move from one area to another. These tunnels are often lined with nasty spikes and solid obstacles, which can hurt pretty badly when you're slammed into them at high speeds, so fast reflexes are definitely handy for these parts. Sometimes you'll catch winds that push you up or push you horizontally, and sometimes you'll jump into a crevasse and just free-fall. These sections can be truly thrilling, and the game's visuals--which offer surreal, massive environments, a spectacular draw distance, and some smaller details that really give you a sense of the force of the wind--definitely help to add a visceral touch.
Kya's semilinear layout, which requires a fair amount of revisiting past levels, can be a little confusing. The game is generally pretty good at marking your objectives, but it can still be a bit unclear sometimes as to what you need to do to pass certain obstacles--or if you even have the ability to pass that obstacle yet. Save for this occasionally confusing bit of business, Kya's gameplay is executed quite nicely and exhibits a surplus of diversity that keeps things engaging all the way through. The game is of average length for action adventures these days, and will probably last you between 10 and 15 hours.
The visual style of Kya owes a lot to Michel Ancel's distinctly European, water-colored designs in Rayman 2, and knowing that Eden Games is a France-based studio makes this a bit less surprising. The scope of the gameplay isn't that massive, but the visual presentation of this strange world is. It works hard to show you as much of the world as it can, all at once. This can come up when you least expect it, and you'll sometimes just turn a corner to be presented with a breathtaking vista that seems to go on forever. The game seems especially partial to pastels, which add to the light, breezy feel of the game but can switch to something a little darker and more menacing on a dime, thus going quickly from cheery woodland to dank, foggy, briar-trimmed forest. The creatures you encounter have consistently creepy, slightly unsettling designs, though this consistency can sometimes make it difficult to discern between benign and harmful creatures. The game's visuals work well--both artistically and technically--by pushing big, detailed environments at pretty high speeds with only occasional, nominal slowdown.
With so much care put into the game's graphical presentation, it seems like the sound design suffered a little, as it doesn't seem to have quite the same level of inspiration. The music has sort of a classical, adventurelike sound to it that fits nicely with the rest of the game's tone, but the game can be pretty sparing with it by only breaking it out during especially action-packed sequences. Kya has a pretty stock-sounding collection of yelps and grunts, though the game's creatures make some rather alien-sounding noises, which add to their already-strange appearances. Kya's voice acting is competent, though some of the voices for the Nativs err a bit too much on the irritating side of cute and come off as screechy and annoying.
Kya: Dark Lineage is one big homage to Rayman 2: The Great Escape, and, as such, players who enjoyed that game will easily find a lot to like about this one. Given that Dark Lineage comes from a development team that had previously only worked on real-world driving games, Kya is a surprisingly accomplished, well-crafted fantasy action adventure game. It's also a game that will likely slip under most peoples' radars because it simply looks pretty unassuming at first glance. This is really too bad, as Kya offers an entertaining and easily recommendable 3D action adventure experience.