Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X
May 27, 2022
It’s been a long time since Kao the Kangaroo jumped onto the 3D platformer scene, with classic games released throughout the early 2000’s before a long hiatus. Fans enjoyed Kao enough that they started a hashtag movement to bring a new Kao game into the modern era, and that’s exactly what happened. Bouncing into the new game and it’s clear that while the 3D platformer is easy to pick up, the story and voice acting have left a lot to be desired.
Kao the Kangaroo begins with the titular character Kao having a dream about his missing sister, Kaia. Kaia went missing looking for their father, and no one has heard anything from either of them since. With his mother’s permission, Kao sets off on a journey to find Kaia, donning his father’s old boxing gloves to assist him along the journey.
Solid 3D platformer fun
Kao the Kangaroo has come in at a time where other titles such as Crash Bandicoot and Spyro have also been revived. If you enjoyed playing either of those titles, Kao the Kangaroo will be just as enjoyable. The 3D graphics fit in with modern games, and keeping it simple works in the game’s favor. Animals look cute and the levels feel like you are either exploring a natural wilderness or the lair of villains who are up to no good.
Kao will be making use of his agility to dodge obstacles, travel secret paths, and get around enemies. The tutorial helps you learn the basics of gameplay which you will soon utilise to grab treasures and navigate secret paths. Making use of Kao’s double jump is a real treat, because the levels are designed in a way that you will always be making use of his jumping power.
Fighting enemies will involve using a simple 3-hit boxing combo, with a powerful finisher that can stun enemies. He also has a jump attack and a ground slam, which both have their uses during combat. The jump attack can be used to deflect projectiles and hit flying enemies, while the ground slam can hit multiple foes at once. Running around fighting enemies with Kao is enjoyable, as you dodge enemy attacks and move in at the right time. Combat is simple but not too complicated and unfortunately it does become stale after a while. There aren’t any enemies that you can’t defeat with your 3-hit combo, and you just have to dodge when an attack comes too close.
You can try to add some variety to the game’s combat with elemental effects that Kao can collect, using them with his finisher. Fire attacks will set enemies on fire while ice attacks will stop them in their tracks. It gives you more variation when battling as you can switch elements in the middle of battle, but combat isn’t hard enough that any element would provide an advantage.
Fortunately, the 3D platforming is the core of your activities. You will move around different levels and worlds, solving simple puzzles to unlock the way forward. You will have to time your jumps, observe your surroundings, and move objects into the right position.
None of the puzzles are too difficult, but the solution isn’t always obvious. You will have to look around the area and pay attention to objects such as furnaces or buttons. This also applies to collectibles, which will also require you to keep an eye out for alternative/secret paths. It gives you a sense of satisfaction when you are able to solve a puzzle or figure out the answer without anyone telling you.
Kao the Kangaroo also has different level types to keep you on your toes. Some levels have you running away from an unstoppable enemy, while others will have you slide down tubes to get to your destination. Each world hub presents new areas to explore and is bursting with secrets to uncover.
“Kao the Kangaroo is a great introduction to 3D platformers…”
New players who might struggle will also find help in the form of checkpoints that prevent you from losing too much progress if you die. Ducats (the in-game currency) will respawn after completing a level, meaning you can never run out of money to buy extra lives. This also applies to extra lives you find in a level, which prevents players from putting themselves in unwinnable situations by accident.
If you take too much damage from exploration or combat, enemies will start dropping hearts that you can use to recover. If you are lost or confused about the right direction, paths are linear and will sometimes have arrows pointing you in the direction you need to go.
For people unfamiliar with the franchise, it is good to have anti-frustration features that would otherwise leave players annoyed or risk-averse. Kao the Kangaroo is a great introduction to 3D platformers as a result, because it has the right balance of challenge and assistance. It’s not easy enough that you can just walk in a straight line, but it’s also not difficult enough that you need an online guide just to get past the first set of enemies in a level.
Adventure for the sake of adventure
Unfortunately, Kao the Kangaroo has a lot of shortcomings that drag the gameplay down. One of the biggest culprits is its collectables, which consist of Eternal Runes, Diamonds and KAO letters. While Eternal Runes are necessary for advancing throughout the game, Diamonds and KAO letters have no real purpose other than being items to collect. There isn’t an option to learn more about their use in-game, and it seems to exist solely for the sake of getting a perfect run. For hardcore 3D platformer fans, this may not be a problem. For someone new to the genre, especially Kao the Kangaroo, they might wonder why they are working hard to get collectibles that don’t actually have any purpose other than being there.
The game itself is also short if you aren’t focusing on collectibles. While you can’t neglect Eternal Runes, simply progressing through the levels isn’t much of a challenge. There isn’t much of a reason to deviate, such as pursuing rewards from side quests or unlocking new skills. It’s not hard to feel unsatisfied as you realise that there isn’t much to do other than platforming. While less can be more, Kao the Kangaroo feels like an adventure that ends just as it is starting to be fun.
Getting attached to Kao is difficult
Kao the Kangaroo has a story, but it is barely there and it feels like the story only exists just to give Kao a reason to explore. Kao has a prophetic dream about his sister Kaia, who left the family to look for their father. Both are missing and haven’t returned, but the dream makes Kao realise that they are still alive. After asking his mother for permission, Kao runs off and finds his father’s old boxing gloves with the help of Kaia’s “spirit”. After a quick training session with the island trainer Walt, he embarks on a journey to rescue his family.
While having a thrilling story isn’t the reason why players would pick up a 3D platformer, it can be difficult to care about Kao’s journey because it doesn’t feel urgent or dire. Character motivations are shallow and there isn’t a lot of exposition about the world or the people Kao meets. The game is not long enough for the story to be anything but the bare minimum. This may be good for players who were nostalgic about Kao the Kangaroo in the past, but it feels like a wasted opportunity in the modern era.
The lines for each character also don’t feel modern. While seeing the young Kao have energy and guts is a pleasant sight, character lines feel forced, like they came from a bygone era. Reading/hearing the characters talk can make you feel silly, because it doesn’t sound like what regular people would say in any situation (and this is after excusing character tics like improper sentences).
The voice acting is also not well done. Kao never sounds emotionally attached to his sister or father, despite that being the impetus for his journey. Humorous lines are delivered with almost deadpan expressions, as if they aren’t being serious about what they are saying. None of the voice actors feel invested in the characters, like they are just reading off of a script. It gives you the feeling that characters would sometimes better be served if there was no voice acting at all, because leaving it to your imagination is more thrilling than hearing it in person.
- Classic gameplay sticks to the franchise's roots
- 3D graphics are simple & fit with the theme
- Good balance of challenge & clues
- Game length is very short
- Story feels like an excuse plot
- Voice acting sounds monotone
- Many collectibles serve no real purpose
Kao the Kangaroo is a nice 3D platformer for getting your feet wet. The gameplay from previous entries is the same and it is easy for beginners to pick up. The graphics look good and keeping it simple fits with the game’s theme. Unfortunately, the game feels too short, ending just as it picks up momentum. Collectibles feel like unnecessary game padding, the story feels like an excuse plot, and the voice acting leaves a lot to be desired. This may satisfy fans who were looking forward to Kao the Kangaroo’s return, but there isn’t much for players who were hoping for a great, modern 3D platformer.