Kao the Kangaroo is back with a fresh reboot from Tate Multimedia, the original developers, with 2022’s game being the fourth entry in a series that’s laid dormant for quite some time. Nearly 17 years to be exact. Rather than continue where the series left off with 2005’s Mystery of the Volcano, the latest entry is a brand new game with an entirely different take on the story and character. With this, even if you’ve never played a Kao the Kangaroo game before, you can hop right in without issue.
As for what you’re hopping into exactly, Kao the Kangaroo is a colorful 3D platformer originally popularized in Poland in the early 2000s that follows the adventures of a young kangaroo with magic boxing gloves named Kao. Platforming and exploration are the main components, though there are some strategy elements tied to Kao’s gloves and what he’s able to do with them.
Honoring the boxing theme, Kao’s name is pronounced like the knockout “K.O.” rather than sounding like “cow” though you wouldn’t be alone in thinking it was the latter as I mentally called it “Cow the Kangaroo” in my head nonstop prior to playing through the full game.
I also found some real charm in the unique platforming elements brought to the table through the incorporation of Kao’s boxing gloves. Adding to this, the world Kao explores is wonderfully nostalgic. Kao the Kangaroo feels like a blast from the past in both good and bad ways.
Tale of two boxing gloves
The game opens with a set of cutscenes that help establish who Kao is and the adventure he’s about to embark on. Given this is a reboot of the series and not a continuation of past games, the story is a little different in that here, a youthful Kao is tasked with rescuing his sister Kaia with the help of his father’s old boxing gloves.
A projection of Kaia’s spirit leads Kao to the gloves, which his teacher Walt had buried “for a reason” and cautions Kao about, before giving in and letting Kao do what he was going to do anyway. Which is, head off to rescue his sister, and learn more about what he’s able to do with the mysterious power the boxing gloves hold.
Similarly, Kao’s mother seems as unbothered as his teacher — if not more so — about what happened to Kaia and his plans to trek through dangerous areas full of lava and poisonous swamps to find her. Parental disinterest aside, the cutscenes are where the first hiccups start emerging as the voice acting isn’t terrible, certainly not the worst I’ve heard, but it also isn’t great either. The game includes plenty of text dialogue in addition to voice acting, and I almost always preferred it over listening to the characters talk aloud.
Outside of that, the story has plenty of twists, turns, and reveals to keep you going though some do end up feeling underwhelming as the game is quite generous in giving you story beats, sometimes a little too generous.
What in the heck is going on with Kao’s neck?
The first thing I’ll say in terms of graphics is that Kao’s redesign is superb. The original Kao felt like a product of its time, almost like a character out of Conker’s Bad Fur Day, while the new Kao gives off Yooka-Laylee vibes. Or any other modern platformer, it doesn’t have to be that one specifically.
The point is, Kao’s new design fits well and looks good. Unfortunately, harkening back to the subject of hiccups again, there are some issues with Kao’s character model in the game itself. For example, when you “swim” you aren’t really swimming, you’re just walking along the bottom with Kao’s neck extended up like a giraffe.
While I found this funny every single time it happened as it looks so strange and out of place — and I actually enjoyed it a lot because of that — I also feel like it would have been better had the team added a real swimming option of some sort, especially given the number of areas where you’re able, and even encouraged, to splash around.
The game’s base hub, Hopaloo Island, is a great example. The game points out early on that water will slow you down so there seems to be some intent there with Kao’s awkward water traversal from a strategic standpoint. However, why then are coins and hidden items placed in locations where Kao is required to move through watery areas in order to get to them? The message ends up feeling mixed and confusing on whether water is to be avoided or not, and whether Kao’s extendable neck is excusable or not.
Adding to this confusion are watery areas in levels like The Dark Forest where some water you’re safe in and can find coins and items, and others you drown in immediately. Other issues with Kao’s character model include him clipping into walls and doors, which is particularly noticeable while exploring houses like those in Hopaloo Island.
Even though I played Kao the Kangaroo on Xbox Series X, I also encountered a number of instances with noticeable graphics pop-in. A number of bugs plagued me as well. For example, in one area of The Dark Forest, I got stuck in a crystal rock gate just by walking up to it, forcing me to restart in order to continue.
A post-launch patch could certainly fix these issues and they don’t impact gameplay outside of instances like the gate I somehow clipped into and got stuck in while playing The Dark Forest level, but it’s discouraging to see them there in the first place. Especially given how beautiful the game is otherwise with its bright, colorful scenery and charming animation on display in the game’s cutscenes.
One more nitpick I have is with the game’s camera, which can swing around in incredibly strange ways depending on where you’re moving and looking. It’s not the worst in-game camera, but it definitely has its moments where it gets in the way of what you’re doing.
Platforming with a powerful punch
The platforming elements in Kao the Kangaroo are the strongest aspects of the game, with a lot of fun to be had in incorporating Kao’s gloves in things like moving platforms and activating switches. You aren’t just punching enemies, you’re punching everything, and it’s an absolute blast.
Platforming isn’t relegated to jumping around either, as you’ll also need to think strategically when encountering areas with purple crystal-type platforms for example. These need to be activated first, and give you a set amount of time to traverse them before they disappear. Many of these platforms can be activated using a crystal boomerang, and the game has auto-aim so there’s virtually no way to miss.
Movement feels decent and responsive throughout, though there are some strange instances where traps don’t activate when they should, or Kao doesn’t perish immediately after falling into a poisonous or fiery area which can allow you to cheese your way through.
Combat is another highlight in the game because, again, it’s fun to be able to punch everything in sight. That said, it’s also not overly complex, and you’re able to spam and button mash your way to victory if you want. It’s not as satisfying of course, but it works.
Speaking of combat highlights, in The Dark Forest level Kao interrupts a band (a literal musical band) of frog enemies called Frogsters and I had a ton of fun punching this angry horde of frogs into smithereens for no good reason other than the game gave me the opportunity to do so. It’s hilarious and bizarre to witness and play, and those two words are how I’d best describe the game as a whole. Hilarious, and bizarre.
It’s also quite approachable as far as platformers go, with nothing that’ll throw you off too much difficulty-wise outside of some platforming puzzles (the game doesn’t hold your hand with these), making it a solid pick if you’re looking for a game for your kids to play.
Despite the issues, bugs, and nitpicks I have with 2022’s take on Kao the Kangaroo, at the end of the day the game is functionally playable, looks gorgeous, and there’s plenty of fun to be had with it especially in regards to platforming and combat. I found myself really loving the platforming elements tied to Kao’s boxing gloves as it feels both unique and clever, and I enjoyed some (not all) of the level designs and the puzzles you’re expected to solve within them.
Kao the Kangaroo succeeds in delivering a nostalgic platformer vibe with everything you’d expect from that mixed in, including coins and collectibles that encourage exploration, along with a bright, cheerful atmosphere. With some of these issues fixed, the bugs and glitches especially, I could easily see this game scoring closer to a 7 or 8. However, because of the number of bugs I encountered and how disruptive some of them were, I can’t in good conscience give this game anything higher than a 6, much as it pains me to do so.
This review is based on a copy of the game for Xbox Series X provided by the publisher for review. Kao the Kangaroo is available as of May 27, 2022 for Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Kao the Kangaroo (2022)
- Clever platforming when incorporating Kao's gloves
- Kao's redesign and character designs in general look great
- Heartwarmingly nostalgic and pretty to look at
- Funny moments like Kao's giraffe neck while swimming
- Graphics pop-in and minor performance issues
- Parts of the game feel buggy and incomplete
- Voice acting is underwhelming
- In-game camera is a little wonky
- Confusing mixed signals like whether water is safe or not
Morgan Shaver posted a new article, Kao the Kangaroo review: Hopping with hiccups
Wtf, I had no idea this was coming. Totally putting it in my wishlist.
Uhh, I'm not seeing any beer, mullets or Barbies. This is representing Australia at all