Kao the Kangaroo preview – The classic platformer is on the ropes

Kao the Kangaroo preview headerTate Interactive

Nearly 20 years after going on an indefinite hiatus, Kao the Kangaroo is back and better than ever, but was coming out of retirement the right move for this rookie marsupial?

In the early 2000s, anthropomorphic animals performing daring acrobatic stunts dominated the gaming industry. Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank, and Sly Cooper were all the rage, and many developers jumped at the chance to emulate their success.

Tate Interactive was one such company that threw its own furry protagonist in the ring to duke it out with Spyro and Conkers. Kao the Kangaroo would be the star of five different titles released from 2000 to 2005 before the developer would put him on a nearly 20-year hiatus.

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In 2020, Tate Interactive announced that Kao the Kangaroo was making his long-awaited return with some much-needed upgrades. But does Kao have what it takes to go the distance, or is it time for him to throw in the towel?

Koa the kangaroo finds his father's glovesTate Interactive
Kao the Kangaroo is a fantastic platformer and beat-em-up in terms of gameplay.

Kao knows the ropes

Since Kao’s last appearance in 2005, Tate Interactive had their work cut out for them to bring their marsupial into the modern era. And in a few of the game’s features, it did just that.

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When it comes to the actual gameplay – the most important part of any game – Kao is a standout. The platforming feels phenomenal, even with the limited mobility options in your arsenal. Combat is satisfying and you can really feel the weight of your punches.

Level design is also incredibly smart sometimes, but it does leave something to be desired. Each hub world is a unique biome that branches into three or four traditional levels. These hubs are open and encourage exploration, but the individual levels feel more like choke points. Sure there are some fairly obvious “secret passageways”, but the game basically funnels the player through the story.

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Speaking of collectibles, there are five types of things you can collect with two being pretty useful and the other three feeling like filler. Coins can purchase heart pieces or lives, and Runes help you progress through the game. It can sometimes be a pain to backtrack and find enough Runes to progress the story, but the collectibles are satisfying to hunt down regardless.

While the gameplay is an absolute knockout, Kao’s supporting elements don’t pack as much of a punch

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kao the kangaroo stinker enemyTate Interactive
Kao the Kangaroo is let down by its voice acting and poor storytelling

Too many hits below the belt

First off, Kao the Kangaroo is a gorgeous game visually. Tate Interactive was able to pull off a glow-up akin to Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart. Hub worlds feel lived in, and environments are something you need to stop and take in. But that’s where the praise for the supporting elements ends.

The audio, visuals, and overall story are pretty bad for a number of reasons. The voice acting for the majority of the characters is atrocious with the main character being the worst by far. To be blunt, he’s a pain to listen to. This wouldn’t be that big of a complaint if the voice acting wasn’t on full display constantly. Every few minutes you’re interrupted with a cutscene, and the segments of gameplay are chock full of groan-worthy quips or more exposition.

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Outside of how the actors sound, the writing feels like it was written for a modern-day Saturday Night Live sketch. It’s as if someone googled popular memes from the last decade and forced a robot to use them in a script. You can’t go one encounter without hearing someone say “boop snoots”, “tuktak (TikTok)”, or “take an arrow to the knee.” Most of these references are jammed into conversations without any rhyme or reason.

To make all of this even worse, the story isn’t compelling in the slightest. Kao wakes up from a bad dream and makes it his goal to find his sister and father. Both of which, apparently, have either left Kao’s village or died — it’s hard to tell at first. Your motive to progress the story also feels illogical at times, and the game’s story doesn’t get interesting until about 3/4 of the way in.

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Kao the kangaroo talks to monkey workerTate Interactive
Kao the Kangaroo has its charming moments that result in a net positive

This platformer goes down swinging

Despite its shortcomings, Kao the Kangaroo is actually a pretty decent game and a damn good 3D platformer. Its story isn’t great, the audio mixing is botched, and the lack of polish in character animations is all a bit jarring. But the gameplay is a real heavy hitter.

Kao the Kangaroo may not make it into the 3D platforming hall of fame, but it’s definitely not going to take a dive either. If you can get past the lackluster supporting elements, you’ll find a charming adventure oozing with personality.

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