LifeisXbox’s Kao The Kangaroo review | While not as well-known as titles like Crash Bandicoot or Spyro The Dragon, Kao The Kangaroo (see the pattern in the naming convention?) had four releases between 2000-2005 on various platforms and has had somewhat of a cult following since. With this new entry in the series by Tate Multimedia, they hope to reignite the interest in what could become a loved IP once more.
What can you expect? It’s the well known mascotte-platformer genre, with jumping, fighting rather easy enemies and lots of items to collect, set in a world with themed biomes and a cast full of anthropomorphic animals. It’s perfectly good fun for all ages.
I’ve been keeping an eye on the game’s socials, as the Twitter account had a good vibe going and I always take notice when a social media manager is doing a great job hyping a game. When the Review copy landed on my digital doorstep, I couldn’t wait to strap on the boxing gloves and hop in.
Most Memorable Moment
Instead of a specific moment, it’s more the general feelgood that I’d like to highlight here. Kao is filled to the brim with items to collect and it feels great clearing every area 100% and finding all the hidden secrets. Here is a playthrough of the first few levels where I tried to find all the collectables in my first run:
ℹ️ Reviewed on Xbox Series X | Review code provided through Press Engine, this review is the personal opinion of the writer.
What we Liked!
- Colourful Visual Style | There is no denying it: this game looks great! Kao The Kangaroo has a rich colour palette and gorgeously designed levels and characters on par with those from the AAA counterparts. My kids don’t always care to watch what I’m playing, but when I turned Kao on, they flocked to the TV to watch daddy play. The visual appeal is definitely one of its greatest strengths.
- Fun platforming | It sounds hard to mess up, but it’s surprisingly difficult to really get a double-jump feeling nice. Kao succeeds in making the platforming a fun experience, and that’s of vital importance because you’ll be jumping throughout the game. You are a kangaroo, after all. There are some goofy elements to it as well, such as Kao’s neck stretching powers and his ability to climb using his ears, probably because the boxing gloves make it hard to grab. It’s best not to dwell on it.
- Game References | There are a few (on-the-nose) game references in Kao which I’m sure most people that recognise them will enjoy. Examples include Duke Nukem’s bubblegum quote or Skyrim’s arrow to the knee.
- Easy but satisfying puzzle-solving | You can collect various elemental charges for your gloves and those will be used in the game to solve puzzles. Need to thaw out a chest from a block of ice or burn away a spider’s web? Use the Fire Fists. Want to create new platforms to jump on or ledges to grab? Freeze the water with your Ice Punch. Finally, you’ll get a Wind Punch that can draw items closer to you. It’s not complex, but it’s fun figuring out how to get the charges collected and using them in the right place.
- Big levels | There aren’t a ton of playable levels in Kao, but both the hub worlds and the varying levels are larger than you’d expect and have plenty to discover. I’ve had a great time exploring them, though I would have wanted to be able to freely explore them all. Usually reaching a checkpoint will close the gate behind you, but I guess that just adds an extra reason to revisit for finding all the collectables. Speaking of which…
- So many collectables | Arguably the most fun you’ll have in games like this, is collecting all the items. And each world has a ton of things to find: Coins that will let you purchase extra lives, outfits or heart pieces are the most common and also respawn every time you replay the level. The aforementioned heart pieces give you extra durability once you collect 4 of them. You can go from 3 hearts to 10 in the course of the game. Then there are Runes which are essential to proceeding though the game (more on that later) and Gems or KAO letters that seem to have zero use, other than when you’re going for a completionist run. Lastly, you can find scrolls that give you a bit of lore on the world, characters and enemies.
- The perfect runtime | Kao doesn’t outstay its welcome, it can be beat in 2-3 days if you set some hours aside each day and then you can slowly tackle the missing collectables if you need to see 100% on your savefile. Beating the game should take around 8-10 hours, completing it, around 12 hours. That’s the perfect length in my book for a game like this!
- Story | While you don’t usually play these games for the captivating story, it’s nice if there is enough of a drive to keep playing. Kao manages to do just that, but never excels beyond the basic necessities. In each level you’ll be asked to search for the local Fighting Master, but we already know as the player that they will only show themselves in the boss encounter at the end and that the other levels are just there to show us the pretty locations. There is an overarching plot of rescuing your father and sister and restoring the corrupted masters to their former selves, but this is something we’ve seen plenty of times before.
- Voice acting & Cutscenes | The voice performance are a mixed bunch, I liked Kao’s lines as well as his mentor’s, although the latter’s manner of speech needed to grow on me. But the writing isn’t that deep and not all performances hit the mark. Added to this is that quite often, the boss music kept on playing during the cutscene and we’d see the boss fainted for a few frames again after talking to him. This made the game feel like it needed an extra round of polish and damaged my overall sentiment on its quality.
- The Camera | For the most part, the camera does a great job at showing you where to go, and you can freely rotate it to look behind corners. But in chase sequences like the one below, you’re running towards a blind spot and that requires a bit too much of trial & error to get right, especially because of the checkpoints and needing to collect all the gems in one go (more on this later).
- Combat | While there are plenty of combat encounters and they are fun enough that I wouldn’t claim the game is better off without them, like was the case in Wavetale, it’s not exactly the deepest system either: you press the attack button a couple of times to perform basic combos, and if you fill an energy bar, you can perform a powerful punch that damages all enemies around you. This also adds the element of your gloves to the attack, but that doesn’t seem to have any actual effect other than the visual difference. One nice touch, though, is that you can reflect projectiles by jumping and attacking at the right time.
What we Disliked
- Invisible walls | In a game full of hidden collectables, players will want to explore every nook and cranny. But for some reason, Kao is full of blocked off paths where an invisible wall will keep you from exploring. This used to be the norm, but lately we’ve gotten to enjoy the “if you can see it, you can reach it” evolution in the genre.
- Gems don’t get saved when you die | When you fall into a pit or lose all hearts, you’ll be dropped off at the last checkpoint again. Weirdly enough, this resets all gems you have collected so far and I don’t think that’s intentional as all the other collectables get saved automatically as soon as you pick them up.
- Rune-based progression | To be able to play the next level, you need to have a minimum amount of runes. I don’t really understand the need to gatekeep the levels in this manner and it would have made more sense to simply ask the player to complete them in a certain order. I know this stems from the Mario 64 days where you needed Stars to play the next level, but it can be frustrating needing to replay a level you just beat, because you missed a single rune.
- Bugs keeping me from getting 100% | There are a few collectibles that I couldn’t pick up because of bugs: either the block of ice I melted kept a chest from being opened, or when I arrived at the location, the chest was already in an opened state, even though I had never been there before. There seems to be a general issue that occurs quite often, as I also noticed missing animations when hitting floating jars and half the time they’d vanish after a few seconds instead of showing the expected shattering animation.
- Bugs keeping me from beating the level | Even more frustrating were a few instances where the game’s programming seemed to fall apart. There are buttons on the floor that require you to use a ground pound move, but on two instances the Jump+Jump+Slam Down combo was instead performing a Dodge Roll at the end. I had to restart the entire level to get through it. In yet another level, I needed to jump on a trampoline (screenshot above) but it didn’t trigger the correct jump/launch animation.
- More general bugs | The list of issues I encountered sadly didn’t end there. Normally you see instructions on what to do in the top left, but I’ve seen the text “QUEST NAME” there instead. When you buy two heart pieces, instead of saying “sold out’, you see a coin which costs a whopping 30.000. After dying, I’d get stuck in the level for 10-20 seconds. and many more little things like this that QA should have reported before sending out the review copies.*
- I lost my progress | Worst of all, after the credits rolled, I wanted to go back into Kao’s world and clean up the final collectables. Sadly, I was shocked to discover that the game had reset my progress to the start of the final world hub. I lost about 3 hours of game time and progress because of this bug and will also not be touching the game again until I see a patch note somewhere that this is fixed.
* I’d like to delve deeper into the bug reporting as a reviewer here. Even though a review isn’t the ideal place for it: When I tried to report the bugs to the developer on Twitter, I received no reply. I headed to their Discord and a moderator told me to post the list in a different channel and on that channel my message got deleted and I received a DM telling me I was breaking embargo. This hit me hard personally, because I only wanted to report these important bugs and help the game, but the conversation was immediately shifted to “here’s what you did wrong”. Plus, because they had deleted my list of issues, they couldn’t even inform the development team. I insisted on sending these over and got an email address, and I hope all the issues I mentioned above have been fixed by release date or shortly thereafter. If they are, you can increase the score below by 30%. Normally, I even wait for day one patches and retest them before publishing my review, but their communication was a bit too one-sided at telling me off and reviews are expected to be a snapshot of the version we were handed, so that’s why the otherwise incredible game scored much lower: it was riddled with bugs. I was also told, and I quote: “The review is a review of the title, not a QA process.”
It’s only because of some positive interaction with the PR team at Rennaissance PR afterwards that I could shift back into a more positive mindspace to write this review. But it raised an interesting topic of our role as early players and if we should inform the creators of issues in their product or not. I fall into the camp that thinks it’s beneficial for all if we can openly talk to each other. We inform them of the issues we encounter, that they may not yet be aware of, and the developers can give us a window on when they will be fixed, so we can keep that into account for our reviews.
How long to beat the story | 8-10 hours
How long to achieve 1000G | 10-12 hours
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Robby lives and breathes video games. When he’s not playing them, he’s talking about them on social media or convincing other people to pick up a controller themselves. He’s online so often, he could practically list the internet as his legal domicile. Belgian games-industry know-it-all.