Is Kao the Kangaroo Underrated? Towards the tail end of the Dreamcast’sofficial life-cycle, back in 2001, a little game developed by Polish studio, X-Ray Interactive,was released for the Dreamcast and Windows.
Kao the Kangaroo stars a yellow kangaroo namedKao, and he sports a pair of boxing gloves.
You know, because Kangaroos box.
While not the most popular game availableon the Dreamcast, it received moderate commercial success and a sequel was released on the PlayStation2, Xbox, GameCube, Windows, and PlayStation Portable.
And finally, a third title, Kao the Kangaroo:Mystery of Volcano, was released exclusively on Windows in Europe in 2006, never makingit to North American shores.
But back to the game that started it all.
Kao the Kangaroo didn’t exactly light theworld on fire upon release.
Game Informer Magazine gave the game a 5 outof 10, stating “I doubt this game will be remembered as much of anything when you lookback at the Dreamcast.
” Online website Happy Puppy was not impressedeither, scoring the game a 6 out of 10, proclaiming: “While not a total waste of time, KAO theKangaroo certainly isn't a Dreamcast tour de force.
Anyone that has ever played a platform gamewill find it inherently derivative and therefore overwhelmingly personality deficient.
” And finally, IGN gave the game a 6.
2 out of10, with a harsher critique, “.
With awkward controls and an unfinished feel, Kao The Kangarootries to leap just past the standard but falls short of making the jump to the next platform.
” So, can a game which spawned an entire trilogyreally be this drab? Well, let’s take a look.
The opening cinematic shows a somewhat derpylooking kangaroo taking a nap, but is awakened when a butterfly lands on his nose.
When he finally catches the winged critter,he discovers he has fallen into a hunter’s trap.
We then see the hunter has carelessly lefta pair of boxing gloves in said cage.
While I somehow doubt the hunter was usinga trained butterfly for bait, nor do I believe said hunter would accidently leave boxinggloves in a cage on a hunting expedition, the scene is short and does what it needsto do.
There is a hero, he has a mission, and wehave a game.
Right away you’ll notice Kao the Kangaroois definitely inspired by the Crash Bandicoot series.
The action takes place from behind, down anarrow path, in a jungle setting.
It’s not the most original thing ever, butI like the Crash games, so I’ll let it slide.
Kao himself has a pair of attacks.
Obviously he can punch with those sweet gloves,but he also has a tail whip.
Additionally, he can side step left or right.
Finally, you can collect some projectile gloves,though these are few and far between and not required at any point in the game.
Of course being a platfomer in 2001, thereare items to collect.
In this case, there are coins, and collecting100 earns you a free life.
To collect all of them in a given stage, youalso need to find a hidden, or not so hidden, warp platform which takes you to a bonus level.
Again, I can’t help but be reminded of theoriginal Crash Bandicoot games.
After clearing the first stage you are takento a map screen.
Here, your entire journey is laid out on atreasure map.
It’s easy to see how many stages are left,where the boss battles are, and of course, the final level is against the evil hunter.
The next stage is a nice change of pace fromthe first.
Rather than a narrow path, you have to jumpalong small platforms floating in the sky.
This would be a good time to talk about thecontrols.
Kao the Kangaroo features some surprisinglytight jumping mechanics.
Momentum and mid-air control feel spot onand jumping along successive platforms is fairly easy and painless.
Kao the Kangaroo’s third stage offers usour first taste of the many different vehicles.
In this case, we pilot a hang glider througha dark volcanic cave.
After this, we get a mild puzzle, where wehave to push some levels in the order shown on a sign post.
The level finishes off with a chase sequence,which again reminds me of a certain mascot marsupial.
Throughout the adventure new wrinkles areadded to the formula.
Here, you have to take down electric towersas you progress through the level, otherwise they’ll shock you.
The vehicles start to pile up as well, includinga snowboard, a speedboat, a spaceship, and even an alligator.
There are even some downhill sliding sectionsthat feel like they're ripped straight out of Super Mario 64.
If Kao the Kangaroo does one thing well, it’soffering a ton of variety.
From dense jungles, tropical islands, icelevels, snow levels, a giant boat, an old castle, deserts, ancient ruins, a space station,and even space itself, Kao never runs out of new areas to hop through.
Another great thing is the difficulty curve.
While the opening stages are incredibly simpleand easy, by time you get to the final leg of your journey, the difficulty really ampsup requiring more precise jumps, trickier enemies, and more obstacles.
Moving on, the bosses too aren’t bad andrelatively simple.
Basically, you have to figure out how to makethe boss vulnerable, and then punch him.
Do this three times and the fight is over.
Again, these are not great by any stretch,but after experiencing a wealth of really awful boss battles in the Dreamcast era Sonicgames over the past year, it is somewhat refreshing to just have a simple fight without any glitches.
So, after making your way through 25 differentstages, and battling your way through 4 boss fights, we finally make it to the standoffagainst the hunter.
Like the boss battles before it, this is surprisinglysimple.
All you have to do is wait for the hunterto fire off five rounds, then punch him.
Each time you repeat this cycle, he movestowards the cage in the center of the ring.
The final blow will send him to the trap andyou beat the game.
The final cut scene shows the captured kangaroosleading the hunter to a boat to row off into the distance.
It’s not the best ending ever, but it doesthe job.
Queue the credits.
Before we get to the conclusion, let me firsttalk about the overall presentation.
As you’ve no doubt noticed, the graphicsare definitely below average.
Level geometry is extremely basic, and Kaothe Kangaroo is definitely not pushing a lot of polygons on the screen.
Textures are also of the low-res variety,and tend to look a bit muddy as a result.
The entire game has a very Nintendo 64 feelto.
On the plus side, the game is colorful whichI do appreciate.
Each environment features bold primary colorsand they do look nice.
Kao himself is also well animated, and hiswalking and jumping animations look smooth and convincing.
The punching animation is a bit more chaotic,but still not offensive.
Unfortunately, the frame rate is not good.
With graphics this basic, I feel the Dreamcastversion should have no problems running at 60 frames per second.
Instead, it hovers around 30 and camera panscan look awfully choppy.
The music too is a real let down and almostevery piece is very basic.
Tracks have few instruments, the compositionsseem like something I would have made in Fruity Loops back in 2000, and overall they lackany real depth.
Even worse, they fade out rather quickly,rather than infinitely loop, which is distracting and sloppy.
These aren’t bad per say, and a few do infact do a nice job setting the mood for the level at hand, I just wish they were all likethis.
So with all of that out of the way, we arrivewhere we began.
Is Kao the Kangaroo underrated? In my opinion, no.
Kao the Kangaroo is not a bad game, and theoverall sense of blandness doesn’t bother me.
However, the game has quite a few problems.
First and foremost, the combat is not satisfying.
Kao the Kangaroo has a tail whip in additionto a punch, but they both function exactly the same.
The hit radius is the same and neither isbeneficial in any given situation.
In fact, I relied exclusively on the punch,simply because I could hold the button and Kao will punch indefinitely.
This is sadly, a necessary feature.
The hit detection is spotty, and it’s alltoo easy to accidently run into an enemy when you thought you were going to punch them.
The best strategy is to just sit there andlet the enemy come to you.
There is no guarantee you won’t still takedamage, but it’s a lot less aggravating.
Unfortunately, sitting there waiting for enemiesto run into your death fists isn’t exactly riveting gameplay.
I also find it odd Kao has a side-step maneuver,but this is never required at any point in the game.
Why is it even here? Next, while I enjoy the change of pace thevehicle levels provide, they have one hit deaths.
Everywhere else in the game, Kao has a lifebar, except these stages.
As you often have to navigate extremely tightcorridors, and it can be quite easy to accidentally nick the wall, and then have to start overfrom the beginning, this is a real problem.
Quite frankly, this is just a bad gameplaychoice and I found these levels far more frustrating than they needed to be.
Next, the controls are backwards on the chasesequences.
These are the only sections in the game withtank controls, where the input of the joystick is not relative to what you are seeing onthe screen.
It’s incredibly disorienting, and again,there is no excuse for such a confusing change to the controls during these sequences.
Even worse, Kao moves quicker when you holdthe jump button, which is cute, but can lead to you jumping to your doom.
There are other confusing moments as well.
Like why do I take damage for hitting thisobstacle? This happens at no other point in the game.
Why did I waste all of my time jumping onthese platforms to get led to a dead end? How did the camera get stuck with such simplegeometry? How was I supposed to know I had to push thiscrate? A later stage actually guides you into pushinga crate, but this guidance comes in a later level.
Why does running under Zeus cause him to fall? Why are these alligators so damn hard to landon? It goes on and on.
But none of these problems compare to thefrustration of these crates.
There are two sections in Kao the Kangaroowhere you are riding a moving platform while crates are coming at you.
You are supposed to punch the crates at theright moment to break them, but with the questionable hit detection noted earlier, you’re morelikely to get pushed to your death.
Even worse, these sections are so poorly programmedyou might get pushed to your death by invisible boxes.
Yeah, it’s pretty bad.
Now, not everything is bad.
The enemy designs are charming enough, andI like how the piranha plants act like dogs and these sharks have swimming gear.
There are even clever moments, like this darkcave where you need to jump from platform to platform while chasing a lightning bugwho illuminates the way.
But as a whole, there just aren’t enoughclever moments in Kao the Kangaroo.
The game is derivative, and after 15 years,has more or less been forgotten when looking back at the Dreamcast.
I would love to tell you Kao the Kangaroois a hidden gem or a game that arrived before it’s time.
And as much as I did enjoy playing throughthis game again for this video, the fact is, the game is a pretty mediocre platformer.
Kao the Kangaroo didn’t bring anything newto the table, and nearly every gimmick found in the game had been done before it, and usuallybetter.
If you’re looking for the definitive Kaoexperience, I would recommend Kao Round 2 on the Gamecube.
And if you’re looking for a unique, thoughflawed, platformer for the Dreamcast, then something like Super Magnetic Neo is whereyou should spend your retro gaming dollars.
In closing, Kao the Kangaroo is not a badgame.
But with watered down visuals, a lacklustersoundtrack, and underwhelming gameplay, it’s tough to recommend.
What the press said about the game back inthe day, is still spot on.
Underrated, this is not.