Nostalgia is at an all-time high. Not only are indies exploring ideas and concepts with a retro flare, dead franchises are returning to give modern times a try. This can be exciting, like many expected Shenmue to finally end its adventure, even if that didn’t quite happen it got people talking. Another interesting revival is Kao the Kangaroo. While never quite having the massive fanfare of other platformers at the time, Kao carved out a niche in the Dreamcast-era and the new version feels like it’s designed for a modern time. With these changes, can Kao the Kangaroo keep up or was it better left in the past?
Kao the Kangaroo starts with a pretty straightforward premise. Kao wants to find his missing sister and to do that he needs to go on a wonderful adventure far and wide. Even if the journey is hard, he is given his dad’s boxing gloves that supposedly contain a great and powerful evil, one that doesn’t seem to react to Kao the same way. With these powerful tools he has the potential to save his sister, assuming you have the skills to get past all the challenges.
Almost immediately after the first level Kao the Kangaroo feels at odds with itself. The story, narrative and overall design all point to a series directed at younger children. Every game doesn’t need to cater to adults or be violent to be fun, it just has a distinctly Nicktoon or older Disney Channel cartoon vibe. However, gameplay feels extremely reminiscent of the iconic Crash Bandicoot.
While there is nothing wrong with Kao the Kangaroo being similar to another game, especially one as important as Crash, it just gives it a rather dated and difficult feel. A lot of the stages are designed to trip players up. Often this happens through multiple traps, strict timing or just unexpected twists. Thankfully, a lot of the most difficult stages are locked behind optional events, though it will be a divisive experience for sure.
A common tactic for Kao the Kangaroo is to require a great platforming skills through harsh challenges. Sometimes you’ll be asked to jump across a ledge and you must hit the activator to make the platform appear, with said item being directly above the platform in question. Other times it’s multiple traps set to hurt Kao if things are not quite right. It’s the type of thing older players will be reminded of, with there being no clue how younger gamers will react to dated practices. But, one constant is that the mechanics are not quite as precise as what players are expected to accomplish.
Throughout my run I ran into a good number of glitches. Some of these were minor things like a slight slowdown here, maybe a coin fell through the map, but I would find the timer for platforms disappear if I moved a specific way or boxes and other interactive items would not interact the way they were supposed to. At best it makes areas feel incomplete and at worst makes some of the platforming harder than it already is. Once we start adding in multiple elements like fire, specific moves to make things work and other little things it can create an error or two.
Even outside of platforming Kao the Kangaroo feels hollow. Enemies are rather bland, with Kao’s attacks feeling lifeless against the various enemies. Not only is there little in terms of combos, they often offer little to no challenge with powerful attacks making their efforts moot. It’s underwhelming and unfortunate to see.
On a high note, everything about Kao the Kangaroo isn’t bad or at least bland. There are a lot of hidden paths, some that even require things from later in the adventure, to unlock all the collectibles. It makes exploration a bit more fun as you attempt daring jumps or move in a weird direction to collect a diamond, letter, HP item, extra life or just bonus stage. There are also a good number of them, not to mention some well-hidden ones, that will keep players engaged for a bit.
Kao the Kangaroo Verdict
Kao the Kangaroo is in a werid place. The story, voice acting and dialogue all suggest it’s meant for kids, but the design and various elements feel dated. In the older days these experiences were the norm, but today it might not be what players expect or even want. This, along with some annoying glitches and underwhelming combat leaves Kao the Kangaroo in a rough place. It still has some good moments, they’re just lost in a sea of basically making a modern Dreamcast title.
[Editor’s Note: Kao the Kangaroo was reviewed on PlayStation 5 and a copy was provided to us for review purposes.]