As I have no doubt demonstrated over the years, I am a real sucker for platformers that involve cutesy, little furry animals (between that, and my addiction to Souls-like, I’m a complicated man). For that reason, it will come as no surprise I had Kao the Kangaroo on my radar upon its announcement.
Developed and published by Polish studio Tate Multimedia, I wasn’t familiar with the Kao the Kangaroo franchise prior to the series’ 2022 revival. Evidently, the series has been around awhile. At the turn of the millennium, Tate Multimedia launched with Kao the Kangaroo on the Sega Dreamcast and followed three years later with Kao: Round Two on a slew of platforms, including PlayStation 2 and Original Xbox. Although the series never took off the way some other series’ did, finding itself buried beneath the mountain of mascot games from that era, a lot of players appear to have fond memories of the boxing marsupial.
On early inspection, the new Kao the Kangaroo lavishes with a colorful art style and game design that feels cut from a similar cloth as the more recent Crash Bandicoot and the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. It is an art style that feels more cartoony, bright, and colorful, and is no doubt meant to evoke that sentiment.
Of course, any player should approach Kao the Kangaroo with expectation in-check. As much as it may evoke a similar first-impression, Kao the Kangaroo is a lower-budget videogame, no ifs, ands, or buts. Thus, with an asking price of about half average retail releases, Kao the Kangaroo is afforded a certain asterisk when I write about it. In retrospect, I will admit the asking price did end up feeling a little steep given the final product, however, because I bought a digital code on eBay for roughly one-third the cost, I feel it would be unfair to criticize on my own behalf (still something to keep in mind, however).
The aesthetic of Kao the Kangaroo, in truth, is the best aspect about it. Although it doesn’t have the attention-to-detail or polish of a modern 3-D platformer, it isn’t bad to look at at all. The visuals although simple, all look crisp and vibrant, and are a pleasure to look at. I found that the last section of Kao, which involved a carnival setting, offered the most interesting visuals and level-design. The rest feels more commonplace to the genre.
Kudos to Tate Multimedia for accomplishing such high-production in spite what little they had to play with.
I liked the music as well. The worst I can say about it is that it is a little derivative at times. I know I had a couple instances where I was taken aghast by how much certain tracks reminded me outright of Crash Bandicoot’s, but with minor tweaks.
Hereafter, everything does begin to unravel a little bit, I admit.
The voice acting leaves a lot to be desired, being inexpressive and bad, and although it doesn’t make me long for Yooka-Laylee‘s old-school approach of gibberish, it makes me better appreciate why they made that decision. I would argue the voice acting and characterizations were among the most glaring criticisms I had with it.
The storyline is campy and unsatisfying, which isn’t a death-sentence for a 3-D platformer, but it really stacks up when compiled with everything else working against it.
Obviously, a platformer about a kangaroo with boxing gloves who aspires to stop an evil entity isn’t likely to be exactly The Last of Us or BioShock: Infinite.
When I write about Kao, I think of the zany, Looney Toon charm of Crash Bandicoot, or the camaraderie of Ratchet & Clank, and that’s how I form my opinion. These aren’t things you need a high-budget to do, but, rather, you need proper characters and to know how to treat them. Kao is more cringeworthy than it is charming, and it is something that persists throughout. The cutscenes and character development in Kao feel so underdeveloped and underwhelming I feel they would’ve benefited from trying a different approach altogether – i.e. a more streamlined Mario-style approach.
The gameplay is decent, at best.
It isn’t anything to write home about by itself. Everything is fairly conventional and standard. The boss battles are, at times, interesting, and were among my largest takeaway, personally.
Everything else is about what you would expect, offering little surprises to speak of. It doesn’t challenge you with its combat, but it doesn’t deter you either. The puzzles and platforming are all leisurely and casual, offering an escapist getaway that requires nothing on your end. Sometimes that’s alright, sometimes you can feel a little short-changed, with Kao the Kangaroo, it’s somewhere between.
Glitches are abundant in Kao the Kangaroo.
Collectibles are a hot mess (there’re these Crystals throughout that have no practical purpose in-game and respawn, rendering them more a headscratcher than anything else). Achievements? Forget about it! Achievements, in a lot of ways, are a natural progression of Collectibles. Achievements, in themselves, are Collectibles. I collect Collectibles so I can collect Collectibles. Thus, for a videogame so deeply centered around them, their functionality is a pretty big deal.
I had every intention of completing Kao the Kangaroo’s achievement list, but, then, realized, I couldn’t. No matter how many times I defeated the last boss, no achievement. Look no further than the comment section on Xbox and you will see the barrage of complaints about glitched achievements others have experienced. I completed the story first, planning to go back and collect – so, I wasn’t too miffed about it. For players who tried for the Health Upgrade collectibles scattered around the playthrough and aren’t listed anywhere (so you’ll have no idea which ones you’re missing), I can’t imagine the frustration a person who used a Walkthrough to find them in vain.
In-game glitches are mostly harmless and laughable. In one level, Kao is being chased by an enemy and the objective is to flee from it (think Crash Bandicoot when you have to run away from a rolling boulder). Instead of running away, you can start the objective, backtrack, and the enemy will run by you, breaking the level.
For Kao the Kangaroo, I’m left with more than a little bit of disappointment. Some of it can be mitigated. They can fix the Achievements and they can iron out some of the minor kinks, that’ll make a big difference in the overall experience. For me though, who bought it on-launch (from an eBay user from Argentina for $10 – because I also have shortcomings), my initial experience (and the experience of players who paid the full-retail cost – the ones who deserve the best possible experience, more than anyone) will be of a glitch-laden, fairly average platformer.