Review – Kao the Kangaroo
Do any of you guys remember a game called Kao the Kangaroo? The original Kao, one of the first console games to ever be developed by a Polish company, was released at the end of the reign of mascot platformers, originally for the Dreamcast. It was alright, amassing a small cult following and some sequels, but it quickly faded out of existence once the mascot fad was replaced by military shooters in the mid-2000s. Its developer would then shift its focus towards other titles, such as the Urban Trial series, but thanks to the current mascot platformer revival we’re experiencing, Kao the Kangaroo is back with a brand new game, a reboot of the series as a whole.
Despite initial attempts at giving the franchise a wider story, with the titular Kao wielding magic (and by that, wicked) boxing gloves that talk to him, as well as elements of mysticism, family values and going the distance in order to rescue his missing sister, Kao the Kangaroo‘s plot is shallow and uninteresting. Sadly, it mostly boils down to some poor voice acting. I commend Tate Multimedia for their attempts at inserting a lot of voice acting and some jokes here and there, for it’s better to try something out and fail instead of not attempting anything at all, but the quality of the script and the acting itself just wasn’t good enough.
We’re not here for storytelling, though. We’re here for casual, carefree platforming. In this regard, Kao the Kangaroo did not rock my socks off, but it didn’t disappoint me either. It was, well, decent. Think of it as your bog-standard 3D platformer from the late 90s, with linear levels to complete, basic platforming gauntlets, basic combat, and the occasional camera issues, but with a boatload of quality of life improvements and modern sensibilities that make it just good enough for you to want to play it to the very end, despite its many issues.
Two things made this game stand out. The first one was its pretty decent presentation. Despite not being anywhere near what I expect from a PS5 title (this is still a cross-gen title, after all), this game’s characters, animations and colorful vistas more than make up for any semblance of budgetary constraints. The second, and most important aspect that made me enjoy my time with Kao the Kangaroo was its level design.
At first glance, sure, Kao the Kangaroo looks like the typical 3D platformer with dumbed down and simplistic linear levels. But this isn’t as simplistic as last year’s Smurfs game, for example. The level design is shockingly clever, with a crapton of secret areas to unveil and additional items to collect. Most branching paths will result in you finding small challenge sections inside the level you’re currently playing, not unlike a bonus barrel in a Donkey Kong Country game. It encourages you to explore every nook and cranny of each level, as well as revisiting older sections whenever you beat said level and realize you haven’t collected all KAO letters and so on.
Add in a decently-sized campaign length, a lot of unlockable cosmetics which can be acquired by visiting the hub world’s shop, and some pretty good tunes scattered throughout each level, and you’ll quickly realize there was a lot of love put into the development of Kao the Kangaroo. It’s also easy to see the biggest culprit that brings this game down: it clearly smells like a game that didn’t boast the biggest of budgets. The team wanted to do a lot with little resources, as well as a protagonist that, well, just isn’t as charming as even other B-tier mascots out there, such as Yooka, Gex, and the little girl from A Hat in Time.
Kao the Kangaroo is very flawed, but also very enjoyable. It feels like I’m playing the 2022 equivalent to Gex, Chameleon Twist, or Toy Story 2: a game that smells like jank, but has enough charm and redeemable qualities (namely its excellent level design) to be worth a shot if you’re a fan of the genre. It will probably not going to wow you in any way, or leave a lasting impression, but it is proof that B-tier mascot platformers are alive and well in 2022. No need to be an Italian plumber, or whatever the hell Ratchet is, in order to star in a decent outing in the genre.
Despite not being anywhere near what I expect from a PS5 title, this game’s characters, animations and colorful vistas more than make up for any semblance of budgetary constraints.
Basic (but effective) platforming, even more basic combat, dated camera controls, but some of the best level design in a linear platformer I’ve seen in a long time.
Kao the Kangaroo features a soundtrack that ended up being a lot better than initially anticipated. Kao the Kangaroo features voice acting that ended up being much worse than initially anticipated.
Fun Factor: 7.5
Despite a bit of jank, bad voice acting, and some annoying glitches, Kao the Kangaroo is the quintessential feel-good, middle-of-the-road 3D platformer that harks back to the glory days of the Nintendo 64 and Dreamcast era of gaming.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Kao the Kangaroo is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC and Switch.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Kao the Kangaroo was provided by the publisher.