The 3D platformer renaissance came in many waves that preceded Kao the Kangaroo. Yooka-Laylee and A Hat In Time brought the genre back via the indie space. Super Mario Odyssey then reasserted the collect-a-thon’s place in AAA gaming. Just last year, Psychonauts 2 accomplished a similar feat, bringing its brand of narratively-driven platforming to market. However, none of those games are arguably as important as Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy.
Crash’s remake trilogy brought that franchise back to rave reviews and totally unexpected commercial success. It was the 90s all over again. Crash was huge, and he ushered in a new wave of platforming nostalgia. We received the Spyro Reignited Trilogy. After that came Crash 4: About Time. From there, Super Monkey Ball Banana borrowed the compilation blueprint. The N. Sane Trilogy established a business model and visual aesthetic that would define many platformers that followed.
Enter Tate Multimedia’s Kao the Kangaroo
While it may not be a remake or collection, Kao has Crash written all over it. Not only because the original Kao game was a turn of the century mascot platformer, but because this reboot is angling for Crash’s success.
The revival aspect, the budget price point, the Crash 4 visual style—it’s all here. However, what isn’t here is an identity beyond that. Kao the Kangaroo is a totally serviceable 3D platformer but not much else.
Regrettably, it’s a low-budget adventure at that. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The AA market is so important. However, you can feel the lack of cash coursing throughout this project. The music is repetitious, often noticeably looping throughout the levels.
The cutscenes are stiff and the voice acting is downright strange—Kao oddly seems to be doing his best Christopher Walken impression. Collision detection and physics aren’t anything special and prone to wonky moments too. In short, there’s a decided lack of fidelity that likely can be attributed to the size of the game’s pocketbook.
Luckily though, the budgetary issues largely pertain solely to the presentation of the narrative and music. The gameplay hiccups are noticeable but not more than an annoyance, and the game looks surprisingly great in motion. Beautifully saturated colors and an excellent lighting engine buoy the bubbly albeit familiar visual style.
That success just doesn’t translate to the cutscenes though, which are simply grating. The plot is rote and its script is replete with cringe-worthy jokes—elements that aren’t helped by the aforementioned lackluster voice acting and animation.
However, you’re playing Kao to play it—not to be engrossed by its narrative. The gameplay fares well, offering simple, satisfying platforming action. The movement isn’t remarkable but Kao does control well, which is an immediate point in the game’s favor.
As such, the environments are a pleasure to explore thanks to solid handling, and a good degree of environmental variety punches the moment-to-moment adventure up. You’re never in one place too long. Combined with the solid level design, Kao has a sound platforming foundation.
While I was never wowed by the challenges ahead of me, the game nicely weaves linear platforming sequences into explorative offshoots and the occasional set-piece. The linearity is hidden well, offering the player room to breathe, but the stages always funnel directly toward their conclusion.
Again, it’s very Crash Bandicoot, going as far as to ape the into-the-camera escape stages which made that PS1 mascot so famous to begin with. Kao really is the amalgamation of others’ ideas in this sense. Nothing here is especially new, but nothing is done that poorly, either.
To that point, the game nicely rolls new mechanical concepts into the fold as you race ahead to the credits, which I reached in about five hours. From light puzzle elements to new platforming gimmicks, the previously noted sense of visual variety extends to the gameplay as well. Although Kao’s tricks are familiar, they nonetheless kept me engaged.
Kao’s Lightweight Design
I can’t say the same about Kao’s combat, though. Kao, pronounced K-O, earns his name as the Kangaroo walks around wearing boxing gloves. He’s always ready for a fight. However, the game isn’t often ready to provide a compelling one.
By merit of clearly being designed for kids, the combat never puts up a challenge nor does it require much more than persistent button mashing. Aside from the occasionally-tough monster closet, Kao’s fisticuffs weren’t anything other than monotonous.
Unfortunately, that feeling of monotony underpins most of the experience. Kao the Kangaroo is inoffensive, albeit totally devoid of a unique identity. The game owes itself wholesale to platformers that preceded it, pioneering both its gameplay ideas and release strategy.
When paired with the transparently low budget and weak narrative framing, it’s hard to motivate much excitement around this title. I must stress though, that it’s not a bad game. On the contrary, it’s a solid 3D platformer. This is a genre I’ve enjoyed since I was a child, and so I was consistently entertained by the experience. But, it was base-level entertainment, the title never rises above that.
Given how derivative every facet of its construction is, it’s hard to recommend Kao when so many more inspired 3D platformers are finally flooding the market.
Kao the Kangaroo was reviewed on Xbox Series X and a game code was provided.