I’VE always been a huge fan of 3D mascot platformers, yet somehow I’ve never crossed paths with Kao the Kangaroo before.
Whether it was because Kao the Kangaroo’s time in the gaming landscape was somewhat short lived, or because he found himself failing to steal the spotlight from other prominent 3D platformers like Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank, Jak and Daxter and many more. After a roughly 15 year hiatus, the boxing Kangaroo has returned, bringing with him an experience reminiscent of 3D platforming’s golden era, with some unfortunate baggage attached.
Kao the Kangaroo sees you assume the role of the titular roo Kao, a fighting Kangaroo, as he sets out on an adventure in the hopes of finding his missing sister and father. To find his family, Kao journeys throughout various worlds in search of the Eternal Warrior, defeating those who get in his way, such as powerful fighting masters who have been corrupted by the power of dark crystals that have appeared throughout the world.
In terms of video game stories, Kao the Kangaroo is as generic as they come. To be fair, you probably shouldn’t expect gripping, edge of your seat storytelling from a game about a talking Kangaroo and his sentient boxing gloves, but it would have been nicer for more effort to have gone into the narrative and voice work, which is honestly some of the worst voice acting I’ve heard in a game in recent memory.
The lacklustre dialogue doesn’t give the voice actors much of a break either, with cringeworthy references to memes, such as the “arrow to the knee” meme from Skyrim – which was a funny meme back in 2011, but is no longer funny or relevant a decade on.
To its credit though, some references managed to make me chuckle, but it was definitely more hit than miss. Overall though, it’s disappointing that Kao the Kangaroo’s shoddy narrative and voice acting let the game down, especially when everything else is handled quite well.
Unlike the story, Kao the Kangaroo’s visuals are actually quite appealing. The bright and colourful world on display throughout Kao the Kangaroo is a pretty sight across its varied hub worlds and levels, and looked fantastic on my OLED television. Levels also exhibit plenty of detail, and enemy design and NPCs for the most part follow suit.
NPCs may look nice visually, but interacting with them is a rather dull affair, due to the voice acting being exclusive to core characters in cutscenes. If the voice acting of Kao and co is anything to go by though, it’s probably for the best that they don’t speak anyway.
The gameplay of Kao the Kangaroo doesn’t reinvent the 3D mascot platforming wheel at all, feeling like a late 90’s, early 00’s game with a modern coat of visual paint. If the age of PS1 3D platformers fills you with happiness and oodles of nostalgia, then you’re going to have a lot of fun here.
The goal in Kao the Kangaroo is to make your way through each level, collecting items known as runes, which serve as the primary collectible throughout the journey. Unlocking additional levels in the hub worlds often require a certain amount of runes. In classic 3D platforming fashion, there are various other collectibles to find throughout each level, such as coins that can be used to buy items such as heart containers and cosmetic costumes.
In a fashion similar to Donkey Kong Country’s “KONG” letter collectibles, each level also has the letters for “KAO” hidden amongst them. As a sucker for collectibles, I had plenty of fun searching high and low for every collectible item as I strived for 100% completion.
Platforming wise, Kao the Kangaroo is again impressive, with Kao feeling comfortable to control. He’s got the expected platforming staples such as a double jump, ground pound with a Crash Bandicoot-esque spin attack for good measure, and also isn’t afraid to beatdown with his boxing gloves, with combat essentially being a simplistic button mashing beat ’em up.
Punching your foes will quickly build up a metre that when full allows you to unleash a satisfying slow-mo slam. Combat is a mindless affair for the most part, except for in boss battles where you need to do a little more to hurt your foes, but it still feels fine enough given that it isn’t a constant occurrence.
Kao’s fancy gloves aren’t just for beating down on enemies however, as they are also often needed to complete puzzles throughout levels. As you progress through the game, you will be progressively introduced to elements that Kao can use to charge his gloves. Fire for example can be used to melt, whereas ice power can be used to freeze things such as waterfalls, which then allow you to climb them.
Various elements are often needed to solve a single puzzle, meaning you will need to be aware of what elemental abilities you currently have. It’s a cool idea that makes the puzzles more interesting than they otherwise would’ve been, but they ultimately aren’t varied enough, with only three elemental abilities available. They also have no bearing on combat, which seems like a huge missed opportunity to add depth to what is largely just a button mashing bonanza.
While I found the gameplay to be really enjoyable, Kao the Kangaroo does find itself let down by a rather noticeable lack of polish. Most noticeable is the fact that some destructible items in the environment that often yield coins don’t animate correctly, and in some cases can’t be broken at all. In other instances such as the pots attached to balloons, they simply just pop out of the game world, which is an ugly look in a game where everything else looks great. The boomerang dispensers suffer a similar issue when it comes to interacting with them, often requiring you to hit them numerous times until they actually register a hit.
I also encountered some rare instances where jumping off a platform onto another would see Kao smash his head into an invisible roof, sending him falling to his undeserved demise. The forgiving nature of the game and how it handles falling off a stage (you merely lose a heart as opposed to a whole life) does make these instances a tad more tolerable, but they are an unwelcome blemish.
As seems to be customary in many 3D platformers, the camera can find itself a bit wayward at times, zooming in too close and such, but to its credit it’s largely fine.
Kao the Kangaroo may not be willing to revolutionise the 3D platformer genre, but its solid gameplay and colourful cartoon world brimming with collectibles largely make up for the lack of originality.
Its narrative and voice acting aren’t great, and the prevalent visual hiccups highlight a blatant lack of polish, but there’s still plenty to love about Kao the Kangaroo. If your formative gaming years consisted of the myriad of 3D platformers of decades gone by, Kao the Kangaroo is still an adventure worth looking into, even though its cutscenes are better off skipped.
Written by: @GrumpyGoron