‘Kao The Kangaroo’ review: lacking punch

Hopping mad

Kao The Kangaroo is a comfort food game. It’s equal parts moreish, simplistic, and easy to enjoy. Like a cheese toastie with tomato soup, this 3D platformer starring a kangaroo with magical boxing gloves isn’t incredibly in-depth or complex, but it’s still a decent treat for fans of the genre.

Very clearly taking cues from Insomniac Games’ original Spyro trilogy and Toys For Bob’s Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Kao The Kangaroo wants you to think of those nostalgic mascot-based platformers. Sadly though, this modern iteration on the genre doesn’t have the same charm or long-lasting appeal as the games it aims to emulate.

After around five hours I was done with Kao’s adventure, even if I still had a few errant collectibles to sweep up. That short time was spent between some vastly different hub worlds and the linear 3D levels they contain, the design of which is undoubtedly the best part of the game, as Poland-based developer Tate Multimedia uses each to introduce and explore a series of mechanics and ideas. Most of these will be recognisable to long-time 3D platformer players, but there are a few new and promising ideas in there too.

The best of these new ideas is Kao’s magical boxing gloves, which can be used for combat or to channel the elements of fire, wind and ice for puzzle-solving. These elements are found via orbs scattered around each level, for which Kao gets one use before having to find another. Three of these can stack in any combination, meaning the player can hold onto an element until they need it later, or switch between them on the fly depending on the situation.

Each element can then be used to help solve a series of puzzles or get through platforming challenges. None of these puzzles were head-scratching in difficulty, but the game takes you through every idea at such a brisk pace that none of them need to get that challenging anyway. Sadly though, this means that by the time all three of the elements are introduced and start getting used in conjunction with one another, the credits are already rolling.

Whilst Kao’s gloves and move set get some visual flair depending on which element is equipped, the kangaroo’s combat doesn’t engage with the elemental mechanic at all. Combining the elements and combat isn’t required of Kao The Kangaroo, but the developers missed a trick in unifying the elements across different parts of the game, so both the world and enemies require effective management of the elements.

Kao The Kangaroo. Credit: Tate Multimedia

The reason I bring this up is because Kao The Kangaroo’s combat needs that extra punch. Whilst no one expects Devil May Cry levels of complexity, Kao’s move set is severely limited to a three hit combo and the occasional heavy attack. Most 3D platformers have combat this deep, but it’s Kao’s occasional over-reliance on combat encounters that highlight how the fighting falls flat. The best of the 3D platformer genre blends combat into its core ideas and doesn’t treat it as a completely separate entity, but Kao does.

Visually however, Kao The Kangaroo is a delight. It embraces the cartoony sensibilities of the 3D platformer genre in both its world design and animations to make the game a truly modern-looking spin on classic platformers. The colours and general aesthetic are bold and sharp, which does a lot to help Kao visually stand out. The animation when playing is also well choreographed and distinctive, and combining this with the visuals immediately makes the game feel well polished and of high quality.

Kao The Kangaroo. Credit: Tate Multimedia

This quality takes a nose dive either when a cutscene plays or a large number of the characters start speaking though. Cutscene animations feel lifeless in comparison to when controlling Kao, which can be exemplified by how easy it becomes to spot an idle loop when characters are talking, instead of special animations breathing life into the characters.

The voice acting, on the whole, does not fit Kao The Kangaroo’s visual style or character designs. Most characters come across as flat and reserved, which doesn’t match how they look in-game. I didn’t find the performances themselves to be a negative, but almost none of the voices used seemed to fit the visual personalities presented through each character’s design.

Kao The Kangaroo is quick, easy, and doesn’t offer much in the way of long-term value, but it does enough in its short run time to remind you of, and tap into, the highs of the 3D platformer genre. Whilst it lacks any real challenge and the distinct charm of the games it attempts to emulate, Kao’s adventure is a visually pleasant romp in its own right.

Kao‘s main problem isn’t what it does poorly, but what it’s missing out on that other games in the genre do so well: Crisp cutscene animations, a central mechanic that permeates both platforming and combat, and a level of charm that comes together as soon as you start playing. That said, fans of the genre will undoubtedly get something from their time with Kao The Kangaroo, as its visuals and level design do enough to carry the game to the finish line.

Kao The Kangaroo is available now on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC. This review was written whilst playing the game on PS5.

The Verdict

A short adventure, Kao The Kangaroo is worthy of long-time 3D platforming fans, but it doesn’t quite do enough with its ideas to stand out amongst the crowd of iconic mascot platformers.

Pros

  • Cycles through a number of interesting platforming mechanics
  • Gorgeous cartoon-inspired visuals and in-game animations
  • The puzzle and platforming opportunities from the boxing gloves

Cons

  • The combat gets too much of a focus for how limited it is
  • Lacklustre cutscenes and voice acting
  • Mostly devoid of the charm presented by the visuals
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