Prefacing this Kao the Kangaroo review with a reminder: mascot platformers used to be a standard video game genre. In the past decade, 3D platformers with cartoony characters have become more of an exception than the rule.
Average gamers today have the likes of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy or the Spongebob: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated remakes to rely on. Any hope for something new demanded that indie devs step up and the most notable examples have been Yooka Laylee, A Hat in Time or New Super Lucky’s Tale.
Kao the Kangaroo is a reboot of an esoteric Polish mascot 3D platformer from the 2000s. Kao had been on several sixth gen consoles and even had a Gameboy Advance 2D game. Kao never got the recognition as big name mascots; he barely was compared to Ty the Tasmanian tiger during his peak. Could this reboot finally be a knock-out? Find out our Kao the Kangaroo review!
Kao the Kangaroo
Developer: Tate Multimedia
Publisher: Tate Multimedia
Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed)
Release Date: May 27, 2022
Price: $29.99 USD
Most gamers probably did not think much about the old Kao games from 20 years ago. They came and went and everyone moved on. Kao the Kangaroo (2022) may or may not be the best entry in the franchise (anyone who has played the original games, please tell us what they were like in the comments section), but it sure does strive to be like a 2000s era mascot 3D platformer.
It is not clear what the original games were about, but reboot Kao the Kangaroo surprisingly takes itself very seriously with its story about a cartoon kangaroo with magical talking boxing gloves. The opening scenes depict Kao’s sister getting kidnapped. Gradually, over the course of the game, Kao learns about his mysterious dad and has to face-off against martial arts masters.
The tone of the story is not that unlike what average 3D Sonic the Hedgehog games present. Expect extremely cartoony looking characters speaking very seriously about siblings and honor of fighting. All this melodrama is compounded with hilarious voice acting by performers who are clearly not native English-speakers.
The awkward voice acting is made worse by the restrained character facial animation. Scenes play out as if the characters are as emotive as sock puppets; barely opening their mouths and having blank faces. The tragedy is that all other animation within the game is excellent and is on par with the level of fidelity seen in Crash Bandicoot 4.
Kao the Kangaroo is a very lively game that is exploding with color and personality. The visuals aim for an illustrative style. Textures are very painterly and cartoony; everything has a bouncy-like quality. The frame rate on the Xbox Series S version stayed at 60hrz and the fluid performance went a long way at making the world feel polished.
Gameplay in Kao the Kangaroo is very close to the kinds of platformers that were hot in the 2000s. Kao can run, jump, double-jump, roll and punch. He won’t be earning too many core abilities as the game progresses outside of a few contextual abilities that are sparingly used for specific sequences.
Using boomerangs or charging up the gloves with an element are borderline key-items and have one-time usage. Having fire gloves means that Kao will have to heat something up in a lite-puzzle manner in order to progress or burn some obstruction. Utility for the power ups are very restrictive and do not enhance the traversal or combat in any meaningful way.
Combat is not that much different than any other 3D platformer. Kao has a simple combo where he bops the foes and he can build up a meter to do a devastating super attack. This feels like a missed opportunity to capitalize on Kao’s distinction of him being a boxing kangaroo.
There is no depth to the combat in Kao the Kangaroo. Kao’s combo can be canceled out into a roll while fighting admittedly some impressively large groups of foes, but he can’t do much else. Kao could have had awesome fighting mechanics where he could uppercut monkeys and air-juggle toads with his powerful kangaroo feet. Not even a charged up hay-maker is in his move-set.
It is regretful that Kao’s fighting prowess is not realized, but the platforming in the various levels is solid and varied. Stages are locked behind required purple crystals like how stages in Peach’s castle were in Super Mario 64. Each hub area in Kao the Kangaroo might hide a few crystals on top of the actual stages and players will be tasked to collecting anything and everything they can.
This is a timeless premise that still feels satisfying thanks to the creative level design and gimmicks that make each area memorable. Everything may be jungle-themed, but the artists put a twist on it with every area; a marketing department set in treetops or a massive make-shift juicer made from a derelict plane are just some of the vivid ideas in Kao the Kangaroo.
Boss battles employ various phases and some puzzle element to overcome. Other times there is some platforming involved to also reach a weakpoint. No matter what, Kao the Kangaroo is constantly keeping the gameplay varied and never settles on one gimmick for too long. This keeps the gameplay exciting and stimulating through out.
The music also manages to be stimulating and catchy. It may not reach the same level as the perfecting in the Donkey Kong Country jungle music, but the fact that the artists managed to make anything memorable at all in 2022 is impressive. The boss track is a particular piece that stood out for capturing a profound sense of menace and have a strong Australian native flavor to it.
Kao the Kangaroo has high replay value. Coins collected can be used to upgrade Kao’s HP or can be used to buy cosmetic outfits/skins. There is one in particular which is a recreation of Kao’s superior original design from his second game. Don’t expect to go crazy at the shop though; gamers must also collect the K-A-O letters in respective stages in order to earn the privilege to buy these skins.
For its price, Kao the Kangaroo delivers a righteous value that delivers a very polished and slick 3D platformer. It is not a long or large game, nor does it innovate much or have the best production values, but it is engaging where it counts.
Despite still relying on a lives mechanic, Kao the Kangaroo is still a very easy going 3D platformer aimed for kids. The intended target audience will likely adore this title and gamers who grew up and miss games like this will feel like they are coming home.
Kao the Kangaroo was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a copy provided by Tate Multimedia. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Kao The Kangaroo is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4 and PlayStation 5.