Out of all the gaming genres out there, my number one favourite has to be 3D platformers. Don’t get me wrong, there’s some tough competition, but when it’s done right, there’s nothing that can bring me more joy than a well-designed 3D platformer. Unfortunately, getting it right can be very difficult. The make or break for me is always the movement controls, and lots of games mess that up. For example, I had to quit playing Super Lucky’s Tale as the controls were so janky. However, when they fixed it for New Super Lucky’s Tale, it became one of my favourite games.
I never played the original Kao the Kangaroo, and in fact, had never even heard of it. However, when I heard that the franchise was getting revived, I was still excited, because the other modern releases of classic mascot platformers I’d played (Crash Bandicoot and Spyro) had been superb. The trailer looked like a lot of fun, and so when I had the opportunity to play a review copy, I jumped at the chance. Read on for my Kao the Kangaroo review for Xbox Series X!
You play as a kangaroo named Kao who’s on a quest to save his family. His father and sister have disappeared, and it’s Kao’s job to bring them home. Honestly, as motivations go, it’s pretty standard. The developers weren’t exactly imaginative with it, but it’s clichéd for a reason. It works. Family drama is always going to be captivating, and this is no different.
In the process of searching for them, you have to travel to various regions, each with its own unique story. I like that each world has separate lore, and that you discover more about it as you play through the levels. On your travels, you’re accompanied by your mentor, a koala named Walt. He is able to enlighten you as to what’s going on, and acts as the main catalyst for exposition.
You learn of a dastardly being known as the Eternal Warrior, who’s trying to let the Eternal World take over our realm. Throughout the game, we use a weapon known as the Eternal Gloves, which are also connected to this Eternal World. I feel like that side of the story could definitely have been fleshed out some more. The gloves appear to have a mind of their own, but aside from a few brief cutscenes, it’s never explored.
Although the story is mostly very predictable, I will admit that there’s a great twist at the end. I won’t spoil it for you, but it was definitely unexpected. In a plot that was otherwise very cookie-cutter, it was a fun change of pace.
As I said in the introduction, the most important part of a 3D platformer is the movement. Thankfully, this is one area where Kao the Kangaroo really excels. The movement controls are exceptionally smooth and very responsive. There weren’t any times where I felt that the controls were to blame for my downfall. Annoyingly, that also means that pretty much any mistakes I made were entirely my fault. It’s embarrassing having to admit that I just made a stupid error, rather than the character not moving where I wanted him to.
However, where the movement controls are essentially flawless, the same can’t be said for the camera. It wasn’t terrible, and certainly didn’t make the game unplayable, but it wasn’t perfect either. Whilst it wasn’t a problem in wide areas, it could be rather frustrating if I was platforming in a tight gap. The camera would get stuck on walls, or would swivel at inopportune moments. I would like to see the developers patch this in future updates, as it seems like something worth fixing. But this is very much me nit-picking, and for the most part the camera controls are fine.
Speaking of controls, I like that they’re where I would expect them to be. Even without the tutorial teaching me what to press and when, it’s all very intuitive. This means I don’t have to adapt my natural playstyle for this game, and I can just do what feels comfortable. Jump is A, attack is X, dodge is B… You get the idea. It really annoys me when games think they’re too good to use the standard format, and I like that Kao the Kangaroo sticks with a tried and tested button layout.
Remember those Eternal Gloves that I mentioned earlier? Well, they’re more than just a pair of boxing gloves, and they give Kao access to some fascinating powers. You can gain the powers of fire, ice, and wind, earning them in that order. I remember when I first encountered a fire orb, and became aware of this unique ability in Kao the Kangaroo. It was really exciting to know that there was a new element to the gameplay (pun intended).
Now, these powers are not involved in combat, at least not directly. Instead, they allow you to interact with the world around you. So for example, you can use fire orbs to burn through wooden beams and cobwebs, or to activate platforms. Or if you have ice orbs then you can freeze water to create a smooth surface to slide blocks across. Wind orbs allow you to summon platforms from far away, which can sometimes be used to get rid of an enemy that’s standing on one. I like the versatility that it offers.
The orbs are few and far between, so you have to be smart about when to use them, and keep your eyes peeled for new ones. You can hold up to 3 orbs at a time, and you navigate through them to pick the type of orb that you want. There are also occasionally stone heads that generate an infinite supply of particular types of orbs. Deciding which orbs to carry at any time requires a lot of thought, and I like that it adds a puzzling aspect to the game.
The combat in this game is relatively simplistic, and I’m not the hugest fan, but it’s not terrible. I just find it a little uninspired, and I’m glad that the main focus of Kao the Kangaroo is on the platforming side of things rather than the combat, as otherwise it would be a bit disappointing.
It’s not really a lack of moves that’s the issue, as there are 4 possible offensive moves you can make, and the reason it starts to feel a bit repetitive is a lack of combos. You can do your standard attack, you can roll into the enemy, you can jump and ground pound them, or you can use your charged attack. This involves filling a power bar (you gain progress every time you successfully hit an enemy). However, it resets if you get hit, plus it goes down naturally over time, so you need to make lots of hits in quick succession. Once it’s full, you can activate the charged attack, which slows down time and does heavy damage to a single enemy and any enemies in its near vicinity.
I think it would’ve been really cool to involve the powers in combat, and it’s a shame the game didn’t go in that direction. Being able to set enemies ablaze with a fire orb or freeze them in place with an ice orb would’ve been a nice touch. However, one thing I love about the combat is that there’s a short introductory cutscene every time you meet a new enemy.
I’m a simple girl. I see something shiny, and I want it. I think that’s another reason why I love platformers so much, as there’s almost always something to collect. Kao the Kangaroo is no different, and there are several collectibles available throughout the levels and home worlds. Some you find just lying around, others you need to earn by completing a challenge or breaking open a chest/ crate.
Firstly, we have coins. These regenerate every time you re-enter a level, and therefore are essentially unlimited. I think the distribution of them throughout the levels is decent, as they’re common but not literally everywhere you look. You can use coins to purchase items from the shop such as extra lives or hearts. You can also buy new outfits to customise your look.
Then we have runes. These are much rarer than coins, and are used to unlock new levels once you’ve collected a certain amount. There are only 52 in the entire game, and I like that there are so few, as it makes them feel special. Also, in each level you can find the letters K, A, and O. They don’t really serve much purpose other than for fully completing a level.
Finally we have diamonds, and I don’t care for these. They serve literally no purpose in the game. You can’t buy things with them. Their distribution is random. And worst of all, if you collect one and then die before a checkpoint, you have to go back and collect it again. This makes them hard to keep track of, and honestly they just don’t feel worth it. I wish you could’ve used them to buy special customisation items.
The Eternal Realm
Another very fun part of the game is the inclusion of the Eternal Realm. Not only does this have massive plot relevance for the story, but it makes for some really thrilling gameplay. The Eternal Realm runs parallel to the real world, and the Eternal Gloves allow Kao to jump in and out of it. There are several different instances of it, so buckle up as I talk through some epic ones.
Firstly, there are special Eternal Crystals that you can hit, and they will temporarily activate platforms. But you need to be quick, otherwise you’ll plummet to your death when the timer runs out! I liked these not only for the challenge they posed, but also for the fact that they reminded me of my childhood. One of my favourite games was the PS1 version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. In the Defence Against the Dark Arts class, you would use a spell to make platforms appear, which would then disappear a short time after. It was so enjoyable to experience that again.
You could also swing on Eternal hooks to get over crevasses, and these required decent timing. In the later levels, you could even find portable Eternal Crystals which you could switch on and off at will. This part was almost like a puzzle, as you navigated areas blocked by Eternal Barriers, or made platforms appear.
There were also Eternal Wells which you encountered throughout your adventure. These were minigames that transported you to a new level to complete a challenge. Often it would be some kind of platforming obstacle course, but there were also combat challenges. A portal in each home world allowed you to return to any Eternal Wells you’d previously found, and I’m glad they were so accessible.
The audio in this game was a very mixed bag, so let’s start with what I loved. The general soundtrack was brilliant. It was upbeat, ambient, and had nostalgic vibes even though I’d never played Kao the Kangaroo before. The music felt magical and really captured my attention, making me feel engaged in the gameplay. In the final level, the music was particularly well-composed, making me feel eerier and uncomfortable which added to the tense atmosphere. However, unfortunately the music would sometimes just randomly cut out for no apparent reason, and there were vast swathes of certain levels that I’d have to play in relative silence, with nothing but the sound effects. Not sure if this was a bug or a stylistic choice, but either way, it detracted from the experience.
But the worst part of the audio was the voice acting. It feels really bad having to be negative about it as I know those were real people trying their best, but unfortunately it was truly awful. I honestly feel like it would have been better for there to be no voice acting at all and for them to have just had the dialogue written on screen. I can tell that the actors were trying, but their cadence just didn’t fit the characters. They’d use a tone of voice that was so jarring when compared with the dialogue, and it felt so out of place. Lines that I suspect might have actually been funny with a decent voice actor ended up falling completely flat. There were a couple of minor exceptions, but for the most part, all the characters were really uncomfortable to listen to.
I really like the fun cartoon art style that Kao the Kangaroo implements. It captures the essence of the game, and lends itself to the goofy nature. After all, you’re a crime-fighting kangaroo, it shouldn’t be a game that takes itself too seriously. The colours are super vibrant and the assets are so pleasing to look at. They’re exactly what you’d expect from a modern 3D platformer, and I’m here for it.
One thing I love is that each world has a completely different aesthetic. It allows for more visual variety, and is a tangible form of progression. You can see physical differences between the levels, and it makes it seem more rewarding to know that the further you play, the more diversity you’ll get to see. I particularly like the ethereal purple of the Eternal Realm.
The cutscenes are well animated, and they’re well paced, too. I never really felt like they were dragging on, and I enjoyed the way they’d fade out, ready for you to continue your journey. The in-game animations were very good, although admittedly not quite as clean as the ones in the cutscene.
The only real downside of the graphics were occasional glitches. Sometimes your camera would get stuck, particularly if you were inside a house. You’d then just see a zoomed in version of a wall or something equally boring, and it would take a lot of manoeuvring to free yourself again. Also, sometimes the physical boundaries of objects were in different places to their visual boundaries.
Overall, Kao the Kangaroo was a thoroughly enjoyable game, and I’m glad I played it. Whilst it can’t rival iconic platformers such as Spyro, it’s still definitely a force to be reckoned with. It’s so tough to make a captivating platformer with the right level of difficulty, and I think they smashed it on a lot of fronts. It does have its flaws, and I probably won’t replay it anytime soon, but it’s worth checking out. It’s priced at £24.99 which I think is a reasonable price for what you’re getting. If you find it on sale then you should definitely snap it up, but even at full price I’d recommend it.
Kao the Kangaroo£24.99
- Excellent movement controls
- Fun and colourful graphics with an upbeat soundtrack
- Decent range of collectibles and customisation
- Unique and enjoyable powers
- Terrible voice acting for most of the characters
- Occasional glitches, particularly with the camera
- There's no clear difference between shallow water (which you can walk through) and deep water (which kills you)