So, I have an embarrassing confession to make.
Kya: Dark Lineage is one of my favorite adventure games ever.
So, why is this embarrassing? It received mediocre to slightly-above-average reviews, and wasn't given enough publicity to draw any kind of universal disdain. So why am I embarrassed about this?
Well, let's see what's wrong with the game. There are a number of things wrong, but three stand out as ones that I'm actually embarrassed about.
For starters, the voice acting is terrible. Like, even worse than average, and the dialog is ridiculous. The story is nothing to shout about (travel to this strange world and unlock your father's legacy, only to discover he's a jerk, and then beat him), but whatever.
Second, I'm iffy about any game that consists exclusively of a modestly hot girl who does nothing but interact with a bunch of anthropomorphic dog people. Oh well, at least they're not foxes.
Finally, and more importantly, so many of the mini-games in Kya: Dark Lineage pander to the same crowd as Mountain Dew commercials. Snowboarding, Sky Diving, etc. I'm stunned that you don't spend any time grinding on rails or throwing devil horns while head banging to some terrible metal band. I haven't played the game recently enough to remember whether it substitutes the letters “ex” at any point with the insufferable “X-” prefix.
That being said, this game features among the finest level design of any adventure game I've ever played. I don't have the memory or the inclination to break down every single area of the game (and it's a fairly large adventure game), but it succeeds in the amazing task of consistently amazing me with “This is a challenge that is unlike any other challenge I have experienced in this game.” Obviously, there is some overlap: You play minigames more than once, combat is the same fundamental mechanic (though increasing in difficulty and complexity).
Shadow of the Colossus did a good job of giving you what seemed to be a fairly limited toolset and having you make use of it in more and more creative ways as the game went on. Though, unlike Shadow of the Colossus, your toolset expands drastically as you play, Kya still blows me away for their sheer volume of multi-purposed tools (tools in this case just referring to anything that you use to make your character interact with the environment).
Example: You have a set of controls to navigate how fast you move while in free fall, which you use to collect items and avoid obstacles when you fall. This tool gets re-purposed later when you navigate horizontally through an updraft, and use it to control your vertical position, which is then re-purposed again to control your jump distance when trying to make leaps in particularly windy areas.
Likewise, when you learn to climb latticed walls to access new places, you get a tool, but when you hang off the sides of crates to avoid detection, you're using the tool in a different way. Even though it's obviously devised by the game designers, this kind of re-purposing of existing tools in creative ways is satisfying on a very visceral level to me, which is what Kya: Dark Lineage delivers on so many times. I could try and make a clumsy list of all the things you do, despite not having replayed the game in quite some time, but I'd rather go off on why I think that aspect is so fun.
I suspect it's because of the implicit suggestion that I'm fooling the game somehow. That is, of course, ridiculous, a game that requires you to “fool” it to be able to be beaten is a terrible game (though I still can't figure out how you're supposed to get out of that one room in the mine in Landstalker, cause I'm pretty sure that “jumping on top of an enemy, and hoping that the knockback pushes you onto the head of the other enemy so you can jump onto this ledge” isn't what the developers intended). Nonetheless, the implication that you're somehow fooling the game, or at least the denizens of the game, reinforces the same fun factor as skill mastery.
www.8kindsoffun.com is a rather amazing source on the subject. If you're interested, I encourage you to check it out. I could keep going, but I think it'd just devolve into rambling. More on the aesthetics of fun later.