Kao the Kangaroo left me nostalgic for a series I’d never heard of. I’m always searching for new platformers, I’ve gone through all the big names across the years and many smaller ones too, but if you’d asked me last month who Kao was, I couldn’t have told you. Like many mascots, Kao fell into obscurity but thanks to Tate Multimedia’s surprise reboot, he’s back in fighting form with a fresh story. Going hands-on with a preview build, it’s pretty easy but so far, I’m enjoying what I’ve seen.
Kao’s journey kicks off with a familiar premise, rescuing family members who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Both his sister and father are missing, while an unknown foe called the Eternal Warrior’s begun corrupting the world with a dark power. Nothing that’d be amiss in a Saturday morning cartoon. Starting off on Hopalloo Island, a land that’s basically Australia, this preview had me explore two worlds, including the more tropical Hungry Jungle. Both locations serve as hubs filled with collectibles, unlocking new levels once you’ve found enough runes.
Unsurprisingly, Kao’s investigation isn’t welcomed by this Eternal Warrior but he’s not alone. Assisting him is his father’s old punching gloves, both imbued with a strange power. Giving Kao enhanced abilities beyond your standard jabs and combos, he can strike deadly finishing blows once his attack gauge is charged, filled by hitting enemies in quick succession. Better still, these gloves can store three elemental charges at once – I’ve only unlocked fire so far – used it to clear obstacles like spider webs, burning them down with a simple hit. Otherwise, more defensive players can throw objects from range or use his dodge roll, which doubles up as an attack.
Kao’s got moves and there’s considerable enemy variety to keep battles interesting. Boss fights throw a few new tricks at you, like the first boss (Terror) leaving a trail of fire behind him as he charges you but otherwise, it all felt rather easy, and there’s no difficulty settings either. During this preview, I only died twice, each death occurring before I’d found extra heart pieces to increase Kao’s health. You can’t just stand there wailing on enemies, that dodge roll is a lifesaver against groups, but don’t expect much of a challenge
Still, if all you’re after is a straightforward platformer, Kao’s proving to be a solid choice. Gameplay is fun, there’s a light-hearted story with a good sense of humour, and a colourful presentation that’s visually appealing. It could do with less outdated pop culture references though, jokes like “taking an arrow to the knee” or “it’s clobberin time!” will likely fly over most kids’ heads, but at least that’s infrequent
Platforming was what sold Kao for me, going beyond the basics after the first world. Climbing across vines using Kao’s ears is silly fun, you can channel your inner Spider-Man by swinging across floating hooks with a grapple ability, while those elemental abilities are creatively used. One memorable level had me running away from an enemy rolling towards Kao on a giant log, invoking memories of Crash Bandicoot’s famous Boulder Dash and Sonic Adventure’s whale chase.
Levels are packed with hidden secrets too, encouraging you to explore. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve tried checking behind waterfalls in games and if you’re the same, I’ve got excellent news. Most levels hide rewards like extra lives, heart pieces, or treasure chests packed with ducats (coins), using the latter to buy the other two in each hub world’s shop. You can customise Kao’s appearance with new clothes, even giving him a retro inspired look. Just be warned, Kao’s most certainly a collecthaon.
Similar to Donkey Kong Country, every level contains three hidden letters that spell KAO found through thorough exploration, which can be easily missed. Diamonds are scattered about too, while some enemies drop scrolls, offering new lore for the Kaopedia. I can see it’s meant to incentivise replaying levels but scrolls aside, these items don’t offer any practical reward beyond completionist bragging rights. Only runes are essential, so if the thought of another collecting marathon worries you, fear not, everything else is optional.
Despite this lack of challenge, I had great fun with Kao the Kangaroo. Powerful boxing gloves excluded, it doesn’t rely on weird gimmicks to stand out, yet despite cruising through combat, I never felt bored. We’ve got is a refreshingly straightforward platformer which scratches a nostalgic itch, one that makes no secret of its influences. What I’ve seen looks promising and I’m looking forward to the full release.
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Author: Ryan McCaffrey