As something of a platformer aficionado, I’m surprised that it’s taken me this long to play a Kao the Kangaroo game. The series first found life on home consoles with the Dreamcast original in 2000 before seeing a sequel on the PS2, Xbox and Gamecube, but neither game or any subsequent spin-offs did particularly well with critics or audiences. It’s interesting then that some 20-odd years later we’re getting a brand new Kao game thanks to Polish studio Tate Multimedia, but unfortunately it seems Kao is destined to live in obscurity a little longer.
Kao the Kangaroo starts off much like any of its genre peers – a dark power has invaded Kao’s (pronounced K-O) world and spirited away a loved one, in this case his sister, Kaia. Armed with a pair of magical boxing gloves inherited from his equally-lost father, Kao decides it’s up to him to go and rescue Kaia and bring peace back to his world. I’ll admit, that’s about as much as I remember of this game’s plot despite how simple it is in theory, and that’s because as soon as the game’s events kick in it stops making any sense at all.
It’s probably a bit much to ask of a B-grade platformer to have any kind of compelling narrative, but Kao the Kangaroo’s writing is frankly dreadful. Plot points are introduced and dropped without warning or context, and at no point did I feel like I knew exactly what Kao was actually meant to be doing. Dialogue wavers between nonsensical and woefully unfunny, relying on borderline offensive stereotypes and punchlines based on horribly outdated memes. Worse still, in a world populated by kangaroos, koalas and plenty of cheap Australiana there isn’t a single Aussie accent to be heard.
All of this would be easily forgiven if Kao’s platforming was more interesting than its world or story, but gameplay here is unfortunately just as derivative and uninspired. Kao controls well enough and the game at least attempts to create a point-of-difference with its melee combat that grants its hero a scant few combos and a finishing move but it’s all bound to tepid level designs with annoyingly missable collectibles and boring puzzles. Kao’s gloves can be powered up with three different elements (fire, ice and wind) that allow him to manipulate different parts of the environment but every single one of the game’s puzzle sequences simply throws the necessary elemental power-up at you as it’s needed which takes away any and all challenge.
That’s not to say I never enjoyed the 7-8 hours I spent completing everything that Kao the Kangaroo has to offer, it’s still a classically-styled collectathon platformer so it’s sure to please long time fans of the genre even if it does nothing surprising. This is definitely a game better suited to young children who might want a Crash Bandicoot-inspired experience without so much challenge and who won’t balk at the middling boss fights and forgettable characters. Each of the 15 levels and 4 hub worlds at least looks nice as well, with plenty of striking and lush environments to explore. The game’s voice acting and music on the other hand are… decidedly average, and so I wound up switching them off in lieu of listening to my own music while I played.
Less forgivable are the constant bugs I experienced, everything from getting stuck in geometry to objects not disappearing, enemies wigging out, audio playing incorrectly, sound effects looping and UI elements lingering on screen. I didn’t experience anything that broke the game entirely or halted my experience but there were far too many times where I got stuck and wasn’t sure if I was doing the wrong thing or the game was behaving incorrectly. Usually it was the latter.
One particular issue, which isn’t a bug but as the game’s developers told me directly is intentional design, is that the game has no option to invert its camera controls. Such a basic feature being omitted with no plans to add it in after the fact is downright bewildering and sure to alienate a whole bunch of players – as an inverter myself I had to push on for the purpose of this review but I struggled with the camera throughout my entire playthrough.
Kao the Kangaroo is an inoffensive and very occasionally charming platformer, but it's uninspired and incredibly rough around the edges. It might hold the attention of some younger gamers and old-school platforming fans but by that same token there are far better games out there for both crowds.
Occasionally looks nice
Scratches the collectathon platformer itch for the most part