Review | Kao the Kangaroo
It's time to kick butt and chew bubble gum—but I'm all out of gum.
Those familiar words are breathed by Kao the Kangaroo (pronounced ‘Kay-Oh’, not ‘cow’), a young kangaroo starring in a series of his own action platformer games developed and published by Polish developer Tate Multimedia. Believe it or not, this a reboot of the series, which will be turning 22 later this year. But don’t let it come as a shock—once upon a time, mascot platformer games were a dime a dozen, found across 5th and 6th generation of console hardware alike. While everyone was raving about Crash, Mario, and to a lesser extent Voodoo Vince, games like Kao the Kangaroo were coming out in the tens to hundreds from small development teams all across the world.
I’ll admit, my familiarity of Kao was paper-thin, and of all the platformers from the early to mid-2000s to come back, I never thought it would be this kangaroo. Although to be fair, if Bubsy can come back, anything can come back. And for what its worth, this reboot of the Kao the Kangaroo games turned out far better than I thought, and I think is definitely worth playing for the casual and core platformer player alike.
Hop, Skip, Jump, and a Punch
Kao the Kangaroo is all about jumping: like any good platformer, you’ll be busy punching away the ‘A’ button while timing your movement from platform to platform to get to the end of the level. Along the way, players are encouraged to collect collectibles in the form of coins, encyclopedia entries, diamonds, the three letters in Kao’s name, and most importantly Relics. Relics are necessary to progress through the game’s four hub worlds, although in this game’s case you’ll never have trouble finding Relics as the game usually places them in your direct path to the end of the level.
Speaking of direct paths, none of the levels in this game have any. No I don’t mean that they’re obtuse or anything, but each level has many twists and turns with some puzzle solving to be had. For example, players will find floating elemental orbs like fire, wind, and ice that they’ll need to use when they come across an obstacle, such as a frozen door or a platform that is too far to reach. These floating elementals are single use, but managing them is relatively simple and I never got stuck thanks to proper placement of these orbs. Frankly, I never had any trouble going through each level, but I also did not find the game to be too easy which I appreciate.
Death is rare in Kao, even in combat sequences. Kao has a three-hit combo alongside a dodge and ground slam, and enemies you encounter are easy to dispatch. To make it even easier, punching enemies multiple times without getting hit yields a free ground-pound Kao can pull off with the ‘Y’ button, which knocks out enemies within a radius. As platforms aren’t all that massive, that usually takes out most enemies around you.
Kao himself controls like a dream. Which, believe it or not, honestly came as a shock to me. When it comes to budget platforming games, I’ve found that the character controller, the way they move and interact with the world, tend to be rather poor and is ultimately the reason why I drop games of this genre, especially these days. It’s more likely you’ll find a PlayStation One or original XBox platformer that controls better than modern platformer titles. But no, Kao is almost perfect. Jumping is snappy, movement is solid and has weight to it, punching works but could be a little better, and dodging does the job.
Unfortunetly, while Kao plays great, the world around him can only be described as well-intentioned but unreliable. In the levels that Kao progresses through, you’ll find certain platforming functions like using hooks to jump from platform to platfom to be weird if not outright annoying. There are a few jumps you’ll make where you’re absolutely sure Kao was supposed to land on but somehow you’ll fall through the world’s geometry. And in one case, the elemental orbs glitched out on me, forcing me to restart the game application to progress.
There are also some ‘questionable’ design choices I noticed during my playthrough. Like with breakable crates: through the game, you’ll find plenty of crates you can smash to get coins. Coins are pretty useful, because you can use them to buy extra heart containers found at the shops in each hub world, so of course the player is encouraged to collect as many coins as they can to buy them. But breakable crates can sometimes eject bouncing explosives from within them which can hurt the player. You can’t distinguish which crates hold these explosives, and most of the time breaking the the crates will trigger the explosion anyway. Although this isn’t a frequent problem, this can be discouraging to players and I’m sure some will rather avoid crates all together rather than breaking them like they should.
Another small but annoying gripe I had is with the jungle vines. Occasionally Kao will have to use his ears to climb nets or bars that are above his head. Crash Bandicoot fans will be very familiar with these, and in his games those do the job. In Kao, they work great too with the exception of Kao’s stretchy neck. Besides looking a bit funny, players will have to use this neckbreaking move to reach collectibles or crates that are sometimes just out of reach. But activating this move won’t break crates—players will also have to awkwardly push the ‘X’ button while holding the ‘Y’ button to free those boxes from their material shackles.
Gripes like these aren’t the end of the world, but they do impact the overall experience and shape how the player interacts with the game world. Filling up these holes does help players leave the game with a positive impression.
Full of Life But We’re Missing Something…
Kao the Kangaroo is a very pretty game. It’s no technical achievement, but its use of colour and shape helps bring out vibrant levels that I enjoyed exploring. Levels have plenty to find within them, such as challenge levels or extra heart containers you can’t find in shops. And they’re not easy to miss for the exploring player. And although crates can be hazardous, I found myself smashing through them anyway, unable to resist the luring temptation of a well-balanced set of boxes. And when I did take damage, I would also find a little hole I could dodge into and find more coins or the other collectibles I mentioned earlier.
Another thing I enjoyed regarding Kao’s levels is that they are designed in a way that makes them look like the NPCs within the game world would be living in. You’ll find chairs and telescopes at lookout points aimed towards the beginning of the level or food and drink in offices or planning rooms. These little touches help the game’s worlds feel like actual places rather than just playing fields, and I really appreciate that. On the downside, the game’s audio is weak, and there are many missing cues to enemy attacks or moving obstacles slash platforms that are sorely needed.
Besides little touches, the game has a story although truth be told it more exists to set up stages and bosses (and a bit of sequel baiting). It doesn’t really flow well, and I actually forgot what Kao’s endgame was until the final boss. The voice acting is hit or miss. I don’t think any character was particularly bad, but better voice direction could have done a world of good. Particularly for Kao, who sometimes sounds a little more confused than he should. He’s got spirit though!
Kaos and You
Kao the Kangaroo is a well-meaning game, and despite some missteps, it is in my opinion one of the better 3D platformers of modern gaming. Heck, I’ll go as far as to say that I enjoyed Kao far more than I did the recent Crash 4, which was an incredible disappointment to me. For what Tate Multimedia is charging for this game, I say Kao the Kangaroo is easily worth buying for any 3D platforming enthusiast.
|Reviewed on||Xbox Series X|
|Available on||Xbox One, Xbox Series, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, Steam|
|Release Date||27th of May, 2922|
|ESRB Rating||E10+ for Fantasy Violence, Comic Mischief, and Animated Blood|
Kao the Kangaroo$29.99 (Based on Nintendo eShop Pricing)
- Great graphics and overall level design.
- Kao controls well and interacts with the world as he should.
- Plenty of content and challenges for the price.
- Questionable decisions regarding trap placement and issues with other level platforming functions.
- Weak audio impact and sounds are missing across the board.