We've been playing Kao the Kangaroo who is bouncing back after a seventeen year hibernation.
Kangaroo Kao fell into oblivion many, many years ago. We first encountered him in 2000, where the game went on to have two proper sequels and then disappeared from the gaming world altogether. He hadn't left everyone's memories, however, and just in time for his twentieth birthday it was revealed that he was to be revived. The result is now here in the form of Kao the Kangaroo, which serves as a remake not unlike 2016's Ratchet and Clank. The question is, is it a delightful enough experience to make us want to remember Kao, or will we forget him even after this time?
Kao the Kangaroo opens with Kao lying on his hammock, dreaming a dream that feels strangely real. He dreams of his sister, Kaia, who is completely missing and after waking up from this nightmare, he quickly announces to his wise mother that he is going to look for Kaia and on the journey search for answers about his long lost father. Like his father, Kao is also a tough fighter and with his father's old boxing gloves, Kao must now fight his way through a world where not everyone is so friendly to him.
I'll be honest right now and admit that I've never played a second of any previous game in the series. In fact, I was so ill-informed that I thought this was a completely new character beforehand, but I did my homework and felt pretty knowledgeable when I started playing a few weeks ago. Still, I felt like I had missed something. Because the presentation of Kao the Kangaroo is really lousy where nothing at all is told about either the characters or the story, but rather I feel like I'm starting to play a game I missed the first hour of. The die-hard fans might find it works just fine, but I think this will be especially confusing for the younger generation who, like me, have no connection to the kangaroo at all. If the ambition was to honour Kao and allow a new generation to form a strong relationship with him, it fails brutally right from the start and after several hours of play I didn't feel I came to appreciate any character more than I initially did. Kao completely lacks charm and personality making it difficult to feel anything at all for him or his family.
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In any case, Tate Multimedia wastes no time in letting us jump right into this seemingly cosy world inhabited by all sorts of creatures. We quickly get acquainted with the game controls and test our boxing skills against frogs and other animals, and the gameplay itself works relatively well and is straightforward and will probably suit many different ages. Like many old platformers, there's most of what you'd expect here, and it's clear that the studio has tried to honour older platformers with Kao's return. Like Donkey Kong Country or the licensed game Hercules, for example, each level allows you to collect letters from the protagonist's name which feels like backing the tape up a whopping 20 years. It feels incredibly familiar and cosy, which I think many fans will appreciate after praying on their knees for Kao to return.
Part of the game world in Kao the Kangaroo is reminiscent of Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, where there is a linear path to follow. However, there are many side tracks to discover. Hidden caves behind waterfalls and other hooded spaces are everywhere, revealing both this and that. As mentioned earlier, you can collect the letters of Kao's name, but there are also parchment scrolls, crystals and runes to get your hands on. Not to be forgotten are the thousands of coins you'd do well to collect and spend on new clothes, extras or why not a little extra health? Just like in Crash Bandicoot, there are bonus levels inside the different worlds that present you with various challenges that, in the event of defeating them, reward you with a valuable prize. In other words, it's easy for time to fly by with Kao. Although the path ahead is obvious, there is much waiting for you to discover.
Something that struck me very quickly was that Kao the Kangaroo feels a little too simple. Usually, platformers tend to offer gameplay where the difficulty can immediately go from easy to almost sadistically difficult, sometimes making the experience unnecessarily grindy. That's not the case this time around, but at the same time I feel the whole thing gets a little too easy. Pounding enemies is fun and if you get in enough hits without taking damage yourself, you can deal a powerful blow that the enemies around you get a taste of too. It should also be mentioned that the game only offers one difficulty level. Given that there's a fanbase that's been itching to play Kao again, I imagine many will find it far too easy, which will also undermine the purpose of exploring the various levels for extra challenges and increased health. For children under ten, however, the difficulty level feels perfect, and perhaps that's the audience the game is primarily aimed at (I'll leave it unsaid whether that's the case or not), but I still feel it would have been appropriate to throw in a slightly more difficult game mode as well. After all, for experienced players, this is too easy, and it detracts from the experience a bit.
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In terms of visuals and sound, Kao the Kangaroo leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, the voice actors are terrible. Truly terrible. It's so obvious that the guy doing the voice of Kao doesn't even speak English as his native tongue, resulting in some strange pronunciations and sounds that make me want to sink through the couch. The music, on the other hand, is incredibly cosy and easy to rock back and forth to during play sessions. Design-wise, it's also a pretty enjoyable experience but unfortunately weighed down by somewhat dated graphics. Both textures and animations look to be from the beginning of the last generation and in comparison to Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, Kao the Kangaroo feels last century.
The combat is relatively easy to get into and similar to many other games in the genre. You can punch with one button, jump and double jump with another, and slide tackle your way through with a third. In addition, there are occasional other options that allow you to throw boomerangs at enemies, for example. There's very little to keep track of, which makes Kao the Kangaroo feel like an accessible game for anyone. Given the difficulty, however, the battles aren't always very fun, but at least they work. The enemies, however, are very identity-less and sometimes it feels like there's no real thought behind them. For example, I would have liked a more varied enemy gallery where they clearly differ from level to level. It happens, but not enough.
Kao the Kangaroo is a decent return of the kangaroo that is likely to appeal to those who have a special relationship with the character and who have long hoped to see him again. For younger players, Kao might also entertain, but if you want to get to know him, expect it to be extremely simple and graphically dated, while the characters feel very uninspired and dull. I remain sceptical, however, that this will be enough for Kao to be remembered and not, once again, fall into oblivion.
6 / 10
Cosy music. Great design. Great platforming. Lots to explore. Fun game and movie references.
Too light. Leaves a lot to be desired graphically. Bad voice actors. Lacks identity.