REVIEW: Kao the Kangaroo is held back by massive technical issues
I don’t know if a patch can fix this one
Kao the Kangaroo is a series that I never expected to see return. It was never exactly a classic, but when I think of the 3D platformer’s heyday back in the early 2000s, Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2 is right up there with Ty the Tasmanian Tiger and Blinx: the Time Sweeper. Kao’s games weren’t that great, but he had a lot of charm. That’s why when a reboot was announced, I was cautiously optimistic.
The newest Kao the Kangaroo game, simply titled Kao the Kangaroo, sees you play as the titular Kao, a kangaroo with magical boxing gloves, who sets off on an adventure to save his missing sister and father. This journey takes you through a wide array of locales, from a tropical island to an icy ski resort, and even a haunted amusement park. Along the way, you platform through perilous levels, take down daunting bosses, and do some light puzzle-solving. It’s all fairly standard platformer fare.
In a lot of ways, this newest Kao game, much like the original, clearly takes a lot of inspiration from the Crash Bandicoot series. Kao is a collectathon, though its levels are laid out in a pretty linear manner, and enemies are used as obstacles more than tricky jumps are. Even visually, you can see that this game’s developers, Tate Multimedia, took heavy inspiration from Crash Bandicoot 4 in particular.
One key way in which Kao differs from the Crash games is in its difficulty, though. In the newest Kao, nothing poses much of a threat at all. The enemies in particular are ridiculously easy to defeat. Combat quickly boils down to just mashing the Y button, which is a shame, especially considering how frequently you encounter foes.
Thankfully, the platforming feels solid enough to make up for the lackluster combat. Kao has a pretty limited arsenal at his disposal, and his abilities don’t really grow throughout the game. But with a double jump, a mid-air tail spin that keeps you off the ground just a tad longer, and a roll that damages enemies and increases your momentum, Tate Multimedia was able to make plenty of unique challenges for you to tackle.
The platforming levels offer a good amount of variety in terms of both visuals and obstacles, though the boss levels were definitely a bit of a disappointment. There are only a few bosses, and they’re all pretty trivial. They’re bizarrely time-consuming, though, as the bosses have unnecessarily large health bars. Usually, once you figure out the basic gimmick of a boss, you have to repeat that gimmick in the same way 4 or 5 times before they change phase or get knocked out. It gets old fast.
Moving on from the gameplay, I was surprised by how much of a focus Kao the Kangaroo puts on its story. There are a considerable amount of cutscenes, all fully voiced. Sadly, the story itself is pretty bad. The premise is generic, the dialogue is chock-full of bizarre references to modern culture that seem dated even today, and the voice acting is not great. A lot of the voice acting even cuts out mid-line. The story here feels more like a hindrance to the game than something that enhances it. However, since the cutscenes are rather short and skippable, it’s not much of an issue.
On the visuals side of things, Kao’s aesthetic is mostly great. I didn’t love the character designs (Kao looks a lot less cute than he did before and the enemies don’t have a lot of variety) but there are a lot of nice-looking, unique locations, and I really liked the use of color throughout. With worlds themed around juice factories and ski resorts, I was often reminded of Donkey Kong titles in terms of overall vibe. Unfortunately, the aesthetic is held back by a low resolution and occasionally very low framerate. Which brings us to the element that, tragically, stands out the most with Kao the Kangaroo; the technical issues.
Kao the Kangaroo is a game that can only be described as broken in just about every way. Throughout the first world, things weren’t too bad. The resolution was consistently low, offering a blurry picture, and there were a handful of frame-rate dips, but they were relatively infrequent and quite short in length. The problem is, things only got worse from here.
I haven’t mentioned Kao’s music yet, and that’s largely because I can’t exactly say that I’ve heard much of it. Levels throughout the first couple worlds all had the same backing song, which was nice, if repetitive, and I occasionally heard a few other tunes throughout, such as in the first boss fight. That said, the vast majority of the time, the music cut out near the beginning of each level, never to come back. More often than not, Kao was accompanied with a very awkward silence.
Kao the Kangaroo’s sound in general faces similar issues. By the time I reached the last level, and this is no exaggeration, there was no music, every piece of spoken dialogue was cut off early, and every single sound effect was replaced with the same monotone beep. All of this was happening in a fight where the average frame-rate was almost assuredly in the single digits and the picture was exceptionally blurry.
These technical issues extend beyond presentation, too. There were a good few times where I just fell through the floor, or clipped through a ledge I was meant to hang onto. There were times where abilities like the ground pound, which is necessary for progression, just stopped working. The inputs required to activate said abilities would just suddenly do nothing, and I would have to purposefully lose a life to get them back.
When I beat Kao, I had collected just about every major collectible, sitting at a clean 99% completion. So I thought I might as well boot up the game again to find out what the completion reward was before sitting down and writing this review. However, I was greeted with a very odd amount of my progress missing. As far as I can tell, Kao has no manual save option, and it relies fully on its autosave. Now, thankfully, I played through this title without booting another game on my Switch or fully powering the console down at any point in time, so I was able to reach the credits. But, when I opened Kao up again after I had finished the game, I was suddenly in the middle of a random level in the very first world. I hadn’t stopped to save here, nor had I stopped there in a previous session. It just seems that the autosave completely stopped working about 20% of the way into the game.
The new Kao the Kangaroo is a deeply frustrating game to me. At its core, it’s a delightfully charming platformer with a lot of creativity. It’s so close to joining the likes of SpongeBob: Battle for Bikini Bottom in the group of AA platformers that are worth your time. But, at least on Switch, there are just so many often baffling issues here that hold you back from reaching that core. I’m sad to say this diamond is buried a little too deep in the rough. Maybe, just maybe, with enough patches, this game could be worth your time. As it is now, I simply can’t recommend it.
Yikes. Sounds like a completely unacceptable effort on the developer/publisher's part. Hard pass on this one.
Apart from all those issues, the game just looks bland and uninspired. $10 would be “definitely”, $15 would be a “sure, why not?”, $20 would be a “maybe”, but this game is $30. A definite non-starter.
Big shame, was looking forward to blasting thru this in a somewhat absent minded fashion after work! Will hunt down the DC original instead!
The website looks like a print preview or Microsoft Word document.
Same problem w the faulty autosave. I can forgive a lot in a game, and I was willing to for this one too. But losing all my progress randomly after just having beaten the boss in the frozen mountains, because I stopped to play Kirby with my nieces, was way too frustrating. Other issues with little glitches and graphics problems every now and then are annoying but workable. Having a faulty autosave and no way to manually save is just ridiculous. Shame because I'm actually enjoying the game, bit of brightly coloured light platforming, no worries. Hopefully the devs patch it, but even releasing it with that kind of glaring error is an indictment on them