Kao The Kangaroo - A TKO
Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, PC
I was quite shocked to learn, as an Australian, that Kao The Kangaroo, the new title from Tate Multimedia, was in fact the fourth title in a series of games based upon the iconic Australian Marsupial. How, as someone who loves 3D and mascot platformers, was wading in gaming’s deepend at this time, and nowadays critiques titles big and small in a formal capacity, had never heard of Kao, and his three earlier titles spoke volumes to the prominence of the franchise up until this point. Naturally, when Kao The Kangaroo, a franchise reboot, emerged, I was compelled to check it out, though unfortunately, I have to report that it’s not the knockout punch that the Polish team at Tate Multimedia would have liked it to be.
Kao, an iconic boxing Kangaroo, is in search for his lost sister Kaia, when he happens upon a pair of mysterious boxing gloves. Dubbed ‘The Eternal Gloves’, these tools of the boxing trade gift Kao a series of powers, and the ability to imbue the gloves with magical elements in order to solve puzzles, thwart opponents, and navigate through a series of island hubs on his journey to rescue Kaia. Layered atop the intrigue surrounding Kaia’s disappearance is another mystery – one about Kao’s father, his history with the gloves, and a larger plot that puts all at risk. At a top level, the plot of Kao The Kangaroo might sound quite involved given the mscot platforming nature of the game; typically games of this genre have wafer thin narratives, and while Kao’s plot is certainly more interesting that most, it’s delivery leaves much to be desired. Clumsy dialogue, an extremely poor attempt at Australian accents, leaves what could have been an endearing plot, meandering in the mediocrity.
Kao is a much more enjoyable playing experience however. Your complete suite of abilities is available to you immediately, and while it isn’t overly expansive, it’s what you would expect of a game whose foundations are build upon Gamecube/PS2-era game design. Basic jump, double-jump and simple melee combat is the name of the game, and they’ve all been executed well. Levels offer a mixture of fairly rudimentary combat arenas, and some fun platforming opportunities, from Ratchet & Clank inspired grind-tracks, to centimeter perfect platforming “Eternal Well” challenges. With further progression into the game Kao’s Eternal Gloves can be imbued with any of three charges, fire, ice, and wind. These will help you to freeze the water, allowing traversal, burn through obstacles, or even make things weightless so that they can be easily moved. These all work together quite well, but when further paired with boomerang totems, which will imbue throwable boomerangs with the aforementioned charges, Kao’s powers have even more utility. While mechanically quite simple, the cohesion between the various systems, and the restraint shown by the developer, ensures that Kao is constantly enjoyable to play, and while not challenging, always incetivises you to explore a little further, whether to collect the letters of KAO, gems, or runes (that unlock new levels).
While the playing experience is solid, there are numerous imperfections that mildly break the enjoyment. Collision issues emerge with breakable objects, the object breaks, but remains on-screen suspended awkwardly in the air until it suddenly vanishes. Not isolated to any one level, this issue is constant. The game also hard-crashed on one occasion corrupting the save-game and forcing full restart several hours into the experience.
Aesthetically, the DNA of the PS2 era is present in Kao’s 2022 reboot, but the game holds up well in these modern times. Aforementioned collision issues, as well as some truly horrific Australian voice-acting aside, Kao looks and sounds the part. Boisterous tunes, a lively environment, and well realised/revitalised character designs make for a pleasing audio/visual experience. On the voice-acting side, as an Australian, I’m acutely aware that we can have a particularly grating accent at times – there are certainly some parts where it can be more nasaly than others, but in casting for Kao, it seems the objective was to get the most grating Australian accent as possible. It was painful enough that I found myself reading the text dialogue as fast as possible so that I could skip the voice-work.
There are numerous rough edges on Kao The Kangaroo’s 2022 reboot, that could certainly be rectified with some quick, post launch patches. Though few are game-breaking (aside from the one aforementioned save-killer), they do break the immersion, in frustratingly small, niggling ways. Kao is representative of a team that doesn’t have an enormous budget, and that’s fine, just be sure to dial your expectations down if you’re looking for an especially polished product. The core though is full of heart, and it’s brevity works to its advantage, not overstaying its welcome, before those rough edges start to become abrasive
Kao The Kangaroo was reviewed on PS5 with a code kindly provided by the publisher