Kao the Kangaroo got introduced to players in the year 2000 on the Dreamcast and although he wouldn’t come to have a wildly-massive following, Kao (fittingly pronounced as “K.O.”) would continue to get various releases up until 2005. The series would be dormant from then on until it was revealed that the series was being revitalized with a brand new twist on the old school platformer. After seventeen years the kangaroo is back to kick some butt and is hoping to bring his name back into the limelight so new and old players alike can see if Kao has managed to stand the test of time and take on platforming action once more.
The long-awaited return of Kao follows the young Kangaroo whose father has been missing for some time. Just recently his sister has seemingly followed in their father’s footsteps and also gone missing. Kao wakes up from a nightmare involving his sister, and feeling like he’s the only one left who can find his missing family, decides to set out and try to find his sister and find out what exactly happened to their father. Along the way he managed to uncover his father’s old boxing gloves, which are seemingly possessed and offer up unique powers that Kao can use to fight off his foes. Kao turns to his master who instructs Kao to seek out the other great masters from around the world and see what he can learn as he tries to find more about where exactly his family has gone and what else in the world seems to be disrupting all the other people around them.
There are many types of 3D platformers around and Kao falls into the linear level structured type. Kao’s adventures take him through all manner of forest, cave and icy domain as he attempts to find rune stones to allow him to progress. Enemies always stand in Kao’s path but won’t last long with his powerful gloves and trusty tail whips to send them reeling throughout each stage. Along the way Kao must navigate puzzles that appear throughout, in addition to checking out and finding any secrets he should desire to offer bonuses and money to help spend on various things. Money for the most part is for optional cosmetics like clothing but can also be used to buy health upgrades to allow Kao to take a few more hits along the way. The end of each world also features a fitting boss, which are a great mix of puzzles and Kao’s simple combat to take them down a notch and set things straight. Stages themselves are nicely paced and don’t overstay their welcome, with a nice solid balance of difficulty that comfortably ramps up while slowly introducing new mechanics for Kao to use along the way to help him out.
Although most of Kao’s adventure will have him doing careful platforming and fighting off enemies, puzzles do play a central roll to his time as well. Some will be simple time-based challenges that require quick thinking, others need to make use of various elemental abilities Kao gets along the way. The first of many is the ability to burn things down with firey punches and then later mixes it up with some ice necessary to go back and forth freezing and burning things in tandem to get along through stages. Various checkpoints throughout stages keep track of where Kao is in case he falls into a pit or some other trouble. The only time this can be a annoying is during some stages where Kao is chased down in quick-paced levels that require Kao start from the beginning with one slip up until he finishes that segment to get to another checkpoint. These are fortunately few and far between and most of the levels are more straight-forward through and through.
One of the biggest enjoyable elements of Kao the Kangaroo is that the visuals are enjoyable to look at. The level design is also well put together, with fun stages that make it easy to explore and find secrets or take it easy and just get through to the end. The same can’t be said the voice acting which makes it hard to enjoy the vast majority of spoken dialogue. It’s not the worst voice acting around, but often makes it tempting to skip the cutscenes with how tiresome and mediocre it is to listen to. The music is also nothing to write home about and won’t bring any memorable catchy tunes, but they’re not egregious by any means and offer at the very least decent background noise. It’s also worth noting that during playing there were a handful of minor bugs encountered, including enemies that wouldn’t spawn and occasional moments where things had to be repeated to completed. There was also one heart-breaking bug that caused the auto-save to revert back to one of the first stages and removing all other progress. Given that Kao has no manual saves whatsoever, this meant the only option was to completely replay everything as the auto-saves are all there is. These issues are likely to be fixed at some point, but as of now it could easily ruin anyone else’s playthrough as the bug we encountered doesn’t seem to have any specific cause that we know of.
There’s a lot of enjoyable gameplay in Kao the Kangaroo. The level design is easily the biggest highlight, and while combat is simple, it’s fun and accessible for all ages to get a kick out of. The downfalls of poor voice acting and a forgettable soundtrack are easy enough to overlook; the only thing Kao really needs are fixes to the aforementioned glitches and bugs that are the sole things holding it back from being a solid and enjoyable experience all the way throughout. Assuming these all get fixed, however, Kao the Kangaroo would be worth picking up for those looking for a fun and nostalgic platformer that hearkens back to the early 3D days, but with nice modern modifications.