There are certain platformer mascots I’d like to see make a comeback. Suffice to say, Kao the Kangaroo was not one of them. The original games were average at best. But when the re-release of the sequel hit Steam, the reaction was positive enough that series developer Tate Multimedia decided to put the roo back in the ring with another installment. While I wasn’t expecting much, Kao the Kangaroo is a pretty enjoyable throwback to the early ’00s. It looks good, plays well enough, and has solid level design throughout, even if its short length and obvious lack of polish hurt the affair somewhat.
Kao the Kangaroo acts as a reboot for the series. Here, Kao’s father Koby and sister Kaia have gone missing. Kao is completely in the dark as to where they are (neither of them told anybody where they were going for some moronic reason) until he’s led to a treasure chest containing his father’s boxing gloves. The gloves are possessed by eternal energy that doesn’t seem to do much of anything, but they talk in an evil voice. Undaunted, Kao puts the gloves on and sets off to find his family members with the help of the gloves, a koala warrior who advises Kao and does no fighting, and an inventor who builds and operates vehicles.
The cutscenes are fully voiced in both English and Tate Multimedia’s native Polish, although I couldn’t figure out how to switch to the latter. Interestingly, the same actors appear to have done both. I really wanted to switch to the Polish audio because, well, the English voice acting is very spotty. Sometimes it sounds okay, but for the most part the inflection is all wrong and everything comes out in stilted, accented English. At least everyone’s a much better actor than Tommy Wiseau, which is a low bar, to be sure.
No glove, no love
Kao the Kangaroo is basically a mix between a collect-a-thon and a Donkey Kong Country-style endeavor. The levels are all accessible from within four hubs. Each hub has a shop that lets you buy heart pieces and new outfits, plus there are a few runes to find, and a bestiary. Runes are the game’s main collectible. Each level has a certain number to discover, as well as the letters K, A, and O, short bonus levels, and diamonds. You’ll need to locate a certain number of runes before you can open purple crystal gates that block the way to get more. There are 50 in all and I got 48 of them. Most of them are pretty hard to miss.
The level themes run the gamut of what’s expected in a platformer. There’s a tropical island, a forest by a soda factory, an ice area, and the home of the eternal energy. Every one of the hubs has a boss you have to beat to unlock the next. Level design is decently varied, with a mix of platforming, combat, and occasional puzzle-solving. Some levels have gimmicks, such as the game’s lone difficulty spike, which comes with a Crash Bandicoot-esque level that has you running toward the screen.
That level is notably harder than everything else in the game, coming off as fairly imbalanced. It requires a bit of memorization and will make you restart a whole section if you make a mistake. Granted, the first section was strangely harder than the others, which was jarring.
Kao’s movements are quite decent, with a double jump, roll, ground pound, and ability to grab boomerangs. There are also three elemental pickups that let you solve puzzles. The controls are responsive, so platforming is fun and breezy. The levels themselves are fairly large and have some room for exploration, although the design is focused, so you won’t be running around wide swaths of empty space like in Yooka-Laylee or anything.
As you’ve likely guessed, the combat in Kao the Kangaroo is centered around Kao punching with the gloves. Kao can throw out a combo and dodge out of the way. However, combat is mostly of the button-mashing variety and enemies die quickly. . Combat’s alright, but it could have served to be weightier. It feels almost like an afterthought, when adding a bit more depth would’ve been a good move. After landing a few hits, Kao will start to glow purple. Once charged, he can unleash a strong punch that damages and stuns nearby foes alongside an appropriate sound effect.
The issue is that the impact and collision detection of Kao’s punches is off. Hitting things is kind of iffy. If you’re too close to certain objects or enemies, Kao’s punch will go right through them. You have to back up and try again. Most of the time you hit things, there won’t be any effect whatsoever, which kind of makes Kao feel like he’s not actually in the world. At least he can grab onto ledges, though.
The boss battles are fairly underwhelming, with the first being the most challenging. They’re all multi-phase, but often generic. But this game is meant for kids. Overall, Kao the Kangaroo is a very easy game. It has a lives system, but I only died twice. One of those deaths was while memorizing the Crash stage. The other was because I lost a minigame due to it being unexplained, which made Kao drop dead. I finished the game in about 5.5 hours, so it’s quite short. Although getting 100% will likely take over six hours, if not a bit more.
Kao the Kangaroo is short, easy, and breaks no new ground. It’s an acceptably fun throwback to 20 years ago that has charming modern graphics and level design that never left me bored. Kao the Kangaroo won’t set the world on fire, but it’s probably the best of the Kao games and a solid entry into the annals of 3D platformer history.
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