“Kao the Kangaroo'' is a 3D platformer collectathon reboot of the original game which came out in the early 2000s when that genre was all the rage. However, next to “Gex,” “Banjo-Kazooie,” “Donkey Kong 64,” “Spyro” and other classics, “Kao the Kangaroo” was forgotten. And, ultimately, playing this reboot failed to make me care.
In short, “Kao the Kangaroo” left me without an easy answer to the question “what makes this game fun?” As a 3D platformer, there is some platform navigation. Is it fun? Eh. As a collectathon, there are coins, diamonds, letters and weird shards to collect. Is that fun? Eh. Being a game starring a boxing-glove wearing kangaroo, combat is emphasized. Is that fun? Occasionally.
The combat is the only bright spot in a game of frankly uninspired levels. When the genre emphasizes exploring, maneuvering, discovering and collecting, it needs unique and engaging stages. In “Kao the Kangaroo,” neither the main path nor the bonus trails are enjoyable or demonstrate imagination. With the platforming aspect of 3D platformers often being the most difficult due to precision jumps in 3D simply being hard to do, I would be fine with it not being emphasized… as long as there was something else to compensate. However, this is not the case.
With the star character Kao — pronounced like the two-letter abbreviation for “knock out” — being a boxing kangaroo, it would be entirely possible for this game to redeem itself with fun combat or compelling boss fights. It does not. This is disappointing to say the least as the combat shows the potential to be fun. With a couple more attack options and the addition of combos, I could see this being enjoyable as more of a 3D hack-and-slash style game … but it isn’t. The combat encounters are uninteresting respites from the uninteresting platforming. After successfully jumping a half dozen platforms, Kao finds himself surrounded by half-a-dozen enemies. Oh no, what is he to do except press the attack button repeatedly?
Rinse and repeat for an entire level.
I think my experience with the first boss fight in “Kao the Kangaroo” is an excellent microcosm of the issues I have with the game. The first phase has the boss turn himself into a tornado and launch himself towards the character’s location in a line. He does this four times before collapsing to create a window for the character to land some hits. The second phase has the boss launching zig-zagging tornadoes out from the center of the stage. Lastly, the third phase is the same as the second except now, in addition to dodging the tornadoes, the player has to jump up on some floating platforms to punch a crystal. Good job, you defeated a boss that has no relevance to the plot or is any way memorable.
As evident, none of this is particularly hard or challenging. With only three hits constituting a loss and forcing the player to start entirely over however, the best way to describe the boss fight — and the game — is annoying.
I will add that I didn’t get far into the game: I played three stages and a boss fight. I decided to stop when I lacked enough weird shards to continue onto the next stage. To get one more weird shard, I had to replay a level that wasn’t interesting on the first pass and hope this time I would find the shard. What is fun about that? It is definitely a problem that I couldn’t play more even if I wanted to.
On a somewhat positive note, the slow, dreadfully uninteresting cutscenes are skippable. Unfortunately, the rest of the dreadfully uninteresting game is not.
It seems as though at every opportunity to make this game interesting, the developers decided to play it safe. While there’s nothing wrong with simple or even uninteresting, there has to be fun.
I gave “Kao the Kangaroo'' every opportunity to provide me with something positive to say and it simply didn’t. It should be immediately evident what makes a game fun, unique or worth playing. I’ll admit I would probably be better able to provide an answer to what makes this game fun if I spent more time with it. However, much like the weird shards, the answer is so annoying and boring to find that it isn’t worth the effort to even try.
The other side of being an uninspired game is that — between the fun artwork and unchallenging, unadventurous concepts — I would say this would be mildly enjoyable for someone who has never played a game before and isn’t easily frustrated.
That said, they and anyone else would be much better served playing any of the other recent reboots of early-2000s 3D collectathon franchises including “Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time,” “Psychonauts,” “Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart” or any 3D Mario game.
A review copy of “Kao the Kangaroo” for Nintendo Switch was provided for free to The Daily Cardinal.
Jeffrey Brown is an Arts Editor for the Daily Cardinal. He also writes for the Beet.