Kao The Kangaroo, an oft forgotten star of those loveable mid-tier early 2000s 3D Platformers, is firmly back! As a person who grew up with a strong and enduring love of this trashiest of subgenres, it’s delightful to see a development team with an equally strong warmth towards these games. Kao brims with love for the source material, and towards the genre at large, playing like something of a greatest hits of the 50’s B Movies of games. It has a good visual style, tight controls and decent level design, but… Well, something is missing.
For starters, Kao The Kangaroo does so much right for a game of this ilk. Kao himself controls fine. The level design is fine. The visuals are nice, and there’s mechanical variety. But it’s all just a bit, well. It’s fine. Nothing here is going to bring home the trophy for the next great innovation in 3D platforming, or even gaming as a whole. And that’s okay. As a game, it clearly doesn’t aspire to more than being just that – a fun, bright and breezy afternoon of nostalgia for people who are in their mid 20s and on, and maybe their kids too if they wish. It’s a short game – clocking in at just over 5 hours for me, with maybe double that if you wish to collect everything. And again – that’s totally fine. It’s a good length for a platformer, and a great length for a few hours of reminiscing on the heady days of Glover.
But is that enough? We are, as 3D Platformer fans, kind of spoilt for
choice these days. Whether it’s in Nintendo’s constant determination to put out nothing short of banger upon banger in the genre, or the indie spectrum capturing a wealth of styles, or even bigger titles such as Psychonauts 2 or Crash Bandicoot 4 bringing new approaches to a classic form of gameplay with heightened story focuses or refining brutal challenges. Kao The Kangaroo feels very quaint, as if you are playing a PS2 or Gamecube game with a shiny coat of paint. It has everything you’d come to expect – the lava world, the forest, ice levels, rudimentary combat. A boat load of shiny things. And that’s pretty much it. It doesn’t offer a compelling, empathetic story, or much of a challenge, or much of a reason to play it really.
Kao The Kangaroo just kind of is. It’s not quite bland, and it only has a couple of truly offensive points, being the voice acting and the writing. The voice acting is testing to the ear, but very much reminiscent of low budget children’s cartoons, so perhaps that’s the intention. The writing? There was an honest to goodness Skyrim reference within the first twenty minutes, so we’re in that kind of ballpark here. Rootube crops up. Actually — that one did make me smile. It’s terrible, but it’s just on the level of a dad joke where you have to admire how bad it is, you know? If this was all delivered by the silly garbled voices of say,
Banjo Kazooie it might be full on amusing. As it is, it becomes a bit of an endurance test.
This endurance test manifested in a game of brinkmanship between myself and the game — what would happen first, would I roll my eyes and shut it off to try and cleanse my ears, or would the game simply crash on me? I managed to hold out longer than the game a couple of times, but other times it couldn’t even get to a punchline before it gave up. A pity really — an afternoon or two of fun becomes a lot longer when you can hardly stand a large part of the game, or instability rears its unwanted head.
Ultimately, Kao The Kangaroo is just a bit of a hard sell. If you want to see where 3D Platforming can go, you won’t find it here. Maybe check out Sephonie? If you want a nostalgia trip, check out more or less any indie platformer made in the last decade. After you’ve finished all of those, and crave the sweet embrace of those “I can’t believe they actually suck!” 2000s platformers? Kao The Kangaroo will be waiting for you, and you will have a good enough time.