Remasters, remakes, and reboots have seen a substantial uptick in recent years; further, no other genre has enjoyed this love like 3D platformers. What's been the most fascinating about this revival streak is just how many C-tier & D-tier mascots receive a modern-day refresh too, from the infamous Bubsy to the... hardly-recognizable Kao The Kangaroo (pronounced K-O). Out of nowhere, Tate Multimedia – formerly known as X-Ray Initiative – decides to revive the beloved kangaroo that initially propelled them. And though that makes me appreciate their enthusiasm to step into the ring, they're a ways off from even contending for a lightweight title.
Kao's Hero's Journey begins in what appears to be an alternate dimension (or perhaps a lucid dream). He's chasing his sister, Kaia, until she vanishes from sight. Impelled by these strange revelations, and the disappearance of his long-lost father, Koby, Kao makes an asserted effort to find and save them. With the guidance of his new koala fighting master, Walt, and a pair of enchanted boxing gloves, he has the means to fend off a mysterious foe that's plaguing his world.
From story to gameplay template, Kao's introduction is every 6th-gen 3D platformer vacuum-sealed by a fastidious collector. After some sage advice from Walt, you'll hit a specific routine: running, jumping, punching, air-spinning, rolling, and so on. It's during this training that you also happen upon your dad's old gloves. The purple, quasi-menacing radiation emanating from them worries your master, but the end result is just a PG-rated evil entity within the gloves that telepathically makes occasional conversation.
These leather gauntlets do more than poor comedic routines. Several elements – fire, ice, and wind – can be stored and utilized for specific purposes. It's similar to a one-use item in a small backpack: Kao's gloves can absorb up to three elemental charges at a time and swap between as seen fit. This ability also maps onto infusing throwable boomerangs for specific occasions. Virtually every scenario is rudimentary and visually telegraphed: use a fire charge to melt an ice block, ice to freeze over a small lake, wind to pull a platform towards you, and so on. There are no wild surprises with these powers, especially since whenever one’s needed a free-range element or element well (Totem) will be floating nearby.
No surprises extends to Kao's gameplay overall. Its calculated collect-a-thoning extends to typical baubles like runes (akin to Mario's stars), gems, coins, lives, K-A-O letters, treasure/lore sheets, and quarter-heart pieces (a la Legend of Zelda). You'll be doing a lot of hopping on platforms and bopping various anthropomorphic enemies across colorful locales. If you've played Naughty Dog's PS1/PS2 platformers, you can internalize how combat, platforming, and puzzle-solving mix together within its hub-based areas; sadly, that's where many of my issues stem.
I don't enjoy denigrating Tate's effort, but it's impossible to disregard this same 'ole song and dance from a couple of decades ago. The initial wind in its sails quickly peters out when there's so little excitement coursing through it. The core dynamic of jumping and button-mashing against enemies feels Xeroxed from better titles. Aside from a few counter-examples, this problem extends to the perfunctory puzzles too. Since almost every environmental brainteaser explicitly pronounces what element is necessary, you're perpetually going through the motions.
This shouldn't diminish from Kao's select successes either. Its visual design and polish are... acceptable for a middle-market title. Aside from Stevie Wonder becoming part-time camera operator within tight interiors or melee hit registration with the consistency of Halo Infinite, there weren't many repetitive technical issues that caught my eye. The quaint visual design of Hopalloo Island is a great first step in this adventure: the shallow lakes and rivulets subtly reinforce exploration while maintaining this welcoming atmosphere. Other over worlds expand the exploratory potential, although it's odd how would-be enemies aren't combative there but immediately attack you within a level.
Compared to those hubs, standard levels don't consistently build up in complexity. Sure, some diversions like eluding a roided-up gorilla while running towards the camera (a la Crash Bandicoot style) or swinging on monkey bars with Kao's ears have their moments; however, there's more to gameplay pacing than just checking off classic platformer prerequisites. This distractive tactic is highlighted by Eternal Wells: portals to a different dimension that has some gems and coins to collect. Aside from a couple of good ones, they're just collect-a-thon diversions for the sake of it.
Think of Kao's gameplay structure as that of mixing fountain drinks at a fast-food joint. Sometimes it's fun to combine two different brands, but carelessly throwing all options together makes for a stale cocktail that even raccoons will avoid. It’s true that many great platformers often throw in a bunch of gimmicks too, but there's some tangible nuance that gives it an identity; something within its design that makes you appreciate prior levels through a new lens. Thanks to its easy difficulty to an unadventurous template, Kao rarely offers anything like that.
Equally disappointing as the final battle wraps up is how disengaged this narrative often feels. The start hits the expected trappings of a callow kangaroo who's hungry to prove himself. That’s perfectly serviceable on its own. One central issue comes back to mismanaged storytelling. The diminution of stakes can be immediately felt. Story beats like discovering the fabled boxing gloves or Kao’s call to adventure are rushed along before players can get their bearings; as a consequence, you rarely feel a tangible sense of triumph over this supposedly-imperiled world. Even by E-rated standards, the lurking evil feels so manicured and dainty.
It also doesn't help when the voice acting and dialogue are sub-par too. I understand the appeal of modern-day jokes within a fictional world (their version of TikTok and so on), but you still have to make them land. I can only recall one distinct character who successfully nailed their part, and it, unfortunately, wasn't Kao. Whether from the talent or the director, Antek Scardina's strange accent doesn't gel with his character's overconfidence.
Overall, it's about what you'd expect from an early-2000s platformer where a programmer also got the lead writing gig. Grammatically correct words are splashed on a page and it follows a set template, but it doesn't get the fundamentals that make it worth investing in.
Kao The Kangaroo Review | Final Thoughts
Tate Multimedia's return to the Kao series leaves a lot to be desired, even though their effort should be noted. For a middle-market title, there's a respectable amount of content to devour (~8 hours), some fun extra cosmetics to collect, and the visual/audio design is competently done. Yet it's hard not to feel so tepid about what's essentially the mid-tier 3D platformer template from eons ago. Plus, the defense of a “nostalgic throwback” rings hollow when other indie examples have built upon the previous giants they so revere. Put simply: Kao The Kangaroo gets creatively weak at the knees by the third round.
TechRaptor reviewed Kao The Kangaroo (2022) on Xbox Series X with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
- Pleasant Visuals
- Good Audio Design
- Some Nice Nostalgic Callbacks
- By-The-Numbers Platformer Framework
- Insipid Story
- Occasional Camera Issues