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Kao the Kangaroo review: Punch-drunk on nineties nostalgia

By Aaron Potter. Posted

If you were to take the rail-grinding from Ratchet & Clank, Donkey Kong’s collectable letters, the chase sequences from Crash Bandicoot, and then blend them all together, you’d have something that looks uncannily like this Kao The Kangaroo reboot. It doesn’t do much to hide its old-school 3D action-platformer influences, that’s for sure, but it’s hard to complain too much in an age when this genre is becoming increasingly rare (outside of remakes and remasters). For better and worse, this is an unabashed throwback to a time when games were simpler – where all that’s required to save the day is a plucky attitude and superpowered pair of boxing gloves.

None of this is to say that Kao The Kangaroo doesn’t at least have a few ideas of its own. From using his ears as a way to climb underneath platforms to the tactile way Kao satisfyingly bops enemies on the head, it’s never hard to find the fun in this colourful world populated by anthropomorphic critters. Of course, the gloves are Kao’s chief defining trait, tying into both combat and puzzles somewhat creatively thanks to their ability to switch between the elements. Fire, Frost, and Wind all have their unique uses as you progress, but it is a shame that the latter is introduced far too late to be enjoyed or iterated on fully.

This is a '90s style 3D platformer, so you better believe there are rails to grind

The four main hub areas you visit are similarly littered with collectables as the individual levels themselves. And while tracking down every gem, rune, and initial in Kao’s name offers a slight distraction from the golden path route, only some have a practical use. Coins can purchase alternative costumes, and runes are necessary to open up new stages. Gems and scrolls, however, serve no real purpose other than to satiate the desire of completionists. It’s in small instances like these that Kao The Kangaroo chooses to give into the genre’s superficial retro trappings rather than improve on them.

Certain technical shortcomings are also expected in an action-platformer of this budget. But aside from getting caught in between boxes a couple of times and classic 3D camera issues this style of game is known for, Kao the Kangaroo’s edges aren’t as rough as other recent platforming revivals have taught us to expect. What tiny annoyances are here are more than made up for by a constant stream of inventive levels, a fair level of challenge, and some charming boss fights that almost always have you using your glove powers in a cool way.

Kao The Kangaroo is at its best when layering its (admittedly not very original) ideas on top of one another as part of a wholesome family adventure, with stages that ask you to pull off a swing then a slide then a grind and so on. It does this in a manner that still gives you room to explore and discover secrets, though a bit more creativity and a higher level of polish would have been nice. It’s far from knockout, but packs a nostalgic punch.

Highlight

Just because Kao the Kangaroo is technically a reboot doesn’t mean it can’t pay affection to the original PC games. One of the costumes you unlock early on, for instance, is a skin that mimics how the eponymous hero looked in the first game. Only 500 coins for the privilege! .

Verdict

Too slavish to the genre it apes to truly stand out, Kao’s return still has us somewhat hopping for joy.

68%

Genre: 3D platformer | Format: Switch / PC / PS4 / PS5 / XBO / XB S/X | Developer: Tate Multimedia | Publisher: Tate Multimedia | Price: £24.99 | Release: Out now

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