Kao the Kangaroo Review (Switch)
In the late 90s and early 2000s, mascot 3D rigs were all the rage and… well, not all of them were great. For every Super Mario 64, you had a… 3D bunny, ultimately leading the genre to become oversaturated and tired. One franchise that fell victim to the end of the reign of 3D platformers was that of Dreamcast Kao the kangaroo (it’s pronounced KOnot cow by the way), but following a push on social media a few years ago, coupled with a successful re-release of the second game on Steam, a reversal of fortunes led to an all-new green-lit game. This new Kao the Kangaroo is still a 3D platformer, but acts like a reboot that in many ways feels like its own new series. Either way, it turns out Kao the Kangaroo is actually a pretty solid new entry; it has a few hiccups here and there, but overall it’s an enjoyable game that fans of the 3D platformer genre won’t want to miss.
Kao the Kangaroo puts you in the role of the eponymous marsupial as he embarks on a quest to find his lost sister, who went out on her own to find their father, Koby, who disappeared years before. On this trip, Kao is assisted by his boxing mentor and trainer, Walt, and the Eternal Gloves, a magical pair of talking boxing gloves that were once donned by his father. The ensuing story has the same vibe of a Saturday morning cartoon, filled with tired pop culture jokes and cheesy voice acting as Kao and his team go in search of his missing family.
Even so, it’s nearly impossible not to be charmed by the lovable and silly characters here. There’s a certain purity to the experience that few other games released today manage to match; this really captures the tone and feel of an early 2000s cartoon. And there’s something about the awkwardly written but passionately performed dialogue that makes it hard not to roll your eyes and smile. Humor certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a universe we wouldn’t mind seeing another entry or two in, if only to see these characters return for more goofy interactions.
Kao the Kangaroo is a classic style 3D platformer through and through, as you progress through levels filled with coins and collectibles and slowly accumulate a greater repertoire of moves and attacks to overcome the obstacles. The Power Moons or Jiggies here are called Runes; each stage has a small scattered handle and you need certain amounts to unlock new levels. Along with runes at each stage, there are three “KAO” letters to collect, several blue gems, and usually a few heart pieces that boost your health once you have enough. The level designs are semi-open in nature, less like Super Mario Sunshine and more like Demon Turf. There’s basically a “main path” for each stage that will guide you through all the main collectibles, but there are usually several secondary paths you can take to find treasure chests and additional extras.
We found that most levels feel well balanced between exploration, platforming, and combat, as things transition smoothly from one element to another. Brief fights give way to sections of rails or platforming gauntlets which, in turn, can lead to an alternate path or two to find additional collectibles. Although you more or less know what to expect after a few hours of gameplay, we enjoyed how the levels still keep you guessing as they develop, like a sudden segment of Crash Bandicoot-esque” run into the camera” as you evade an enemy charging towards you.
Plus, it’s satisfying when there’s a “story” told at certain stages, like how a level centers around you climbing a high tower to destroy a juice machine, followed by a long slide in a now empty tube. Not every level is equally memorable, but we found ourselves looking forward to each new stage as we anticipated what scenery and platforming gauntlets it might have. Later, the difficulty also increases significantly, providing a nice challenge even for experienced players. Kao the Kangaroo never feels difficult enough to be downright frustrating, but some parts may cost you a life or two more than expected. This reasonable level of difficulty, combined with an inventive and generally well-paced level design, makes for a thrilling 10-15 hour journey.
Throughout each stage you’ll also have several instances where you’ll need to defeat a certain number of enemies to progress and this is where the surprisingly solid combat system shines. Kao has some basic combos and finishers depending on what item his gloves have equipped and how he chains his enemies and builds a counter for a combo finisher funnily gave us vibes of the games combat system Batman: Arkham. Chaining dodge rolls, smashes, punches, and finishers feels nice and satisfying, even if most enemies bend like sheets after hitting them in the throat multiple times.
And pretty much when a combat section feels like it’s starting to overstay its welcome, it usually ends and you return to the platform. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend picking this game up purely on the basis of its combat, but considering how afterthought combat feels in most 3D platformers, we were pleasantly surprised by what’s on offer here.
For genre fans, then, Kao the Kangaroo is easy to love due to its adherence to classic 3D platforming design, but one element that’s a bit too Similar to games of old is the camera, which is less useful from time to time. Although you have full control of it, we noticed several times that breakable objects or random decorative objects in the environment partially or completely obscured our vision of Kao, leading to missed hits and jumps. It never quite gets to the point where the camera feels like it’s actively fighting us or becoming an insurmountable problem, but it’s annoying enough that some sections are made harder than they should be.
Moreover, the camera is only one element of a larger and more vague sense of jank which pervades the whole experience; small but noticeable details that accumulate to make the adventure feel a bit less polished than its peers. For example, we noticed a popup for a new side quest displaying a “QUEST NAME” placeholder for the alert. We finished a level with 15/12 gems to collect because some decided to reappear after a death. Some of those rougher edges are more fun than irritating, but they’re pretty prevalent and tend to make Kao the Kangaroo feel like he’s in a different league than the games he’s clearly trying to emulate.
Presentation wise, we were very impressed with the colorful and vibrant locations on display here. The art style is a bit like how we imagine a 3D version of the last two Donkey Kong Country games (Retro Studios), as it mixes the general technological aesthetic with a very natural world. Whether you’re crossing bridges between shacks in a village tied to massive trees or sneaking through a factory built by monkeys from bamboo and palm fronds, it’s clear the developers have gone to great lengths. to create a cohesive and visually appealing world. for Kao to explore.
All of this is backed by a soundtrack that reminds us a bit of David Wise’s work in Snake Pass, as various wood and steel drums produce all sorts of raucous, upbeat melodies. It’s not a particularly memorable soundtrack, but it fits the world and tone quite well.
Unfortunately, we encountered issues with the frame rate dropping on both the docking station and the handheld. There were no times when this negatively affected our gameplay, but opening a chest full of coins or getting into a fight with lots of enemies would see noticeable frame drops in what felt like the low 20s. Also, the resolution looks a bit fuzzy no matter what screen you’re playing on, which is a bit of a shame as it somewhat obscures your view of the otherwise well-done art style.
Kao the Kangaroo may have been on hiatus for a while, but we’re happy to see he’s back in shape. Well-paced level design, engaging art style, surprisingly satisfying combat, and plenty of collectibles to snag come together to create an exciting, retro 3D platformer experience. That said, things like an occasionally misbehaving camera and performance issues are holding up this adventure. to be the truly excellent revival that it could have been. If you still find a lot to love in games like A Hat in Time, Demon Turf, or Banjo-Kazooie, then we’re confident you’ll have a great time playing Kao the Kangaroo despite its minor issues. If you’re a bit fed up with these games, however, that won’t change your mind. All in all, we recommend investigating Kao the Kangaroo if you’re the least bit interested; despite some rough edges, it’s a charming platforming experience.