Kao the Kangaroo dates back to 2000, with an initial release on Gameboy Advance and Windows. Developed and published by Polish studio Tate Multimedia, this all-new Kao (pronounced Kay-Oh) adventure continues in the footsteps of Banjo Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon, Sly Raccoon, Crash Bandicoot and borrows from all of them and its older iterations in this charming arcade adventure. Kao uses the well-known trope that Kangaroos like to box, and you'll spend a large percentage of your time with the game punching things, be they barrels, crates or enemies.
Kao lives with his family; parents Marlene and Koby, and sister Kaia on Hopalloo Island. The island acts as a hub for the entire game with various other locations branching off from it.
Kao's dad has disappeared and Kao decides, against his elder's advice, to go looking for him. Armed only with Koby's boxing gloves he searches the further reaches of the seemingly safe, sunny island and later travels further afield thanks to his friend and mechanical genius Gadget the pelican.
The first thing you'll notice is that there are lots of coins (Ducats) to pick up on every level. These may be obtained from punching the crap out of an object or enemy, or found just lying around. There are seemingly as many coins as you want to find and pick up, and most areas can be revisited to gather more coins to spend on power ups. Every now and then you'll find bonus levels called Eternal Wells, which are short-ish floating platform-type puzzles using all of the tricks and abilities that you've unlocked along the way. These are great places to farm coins
The controls feel tight and responsive, and the button mapping is logical and feels natural. 'A' is jump (and double-jump), 'X' is punch (presses buttons/opens doors as well), jumping with 'A' then pressing 'X' makes Kao perform a spinning tail attack. 'Y' is a finisher punch on a weakened enemy, 'B' makes Kao roll, which is handy for getting through low gaps, and also acts as a 'dash' when in shallow water, which is easily recognised as deep water is a slightly darker shade of blue and is to be avoided, as, unlike real kangaroos Kao can't swim. Jumping and pressing 'B' makes Kao do a somersault splat which is good for doing area damage when surrounded.
Occasionally you can pick up a rock or a boomerang with 'Y' and throw it with the right trigger. Hitting certain things could make magical platforms appear, or hooks to swing on. Your mentor Walt walks you through a quick training level to learn all these moves and other moves are added later, usually with a nice easy section nearby to polish your skills.
As I mentioned at the start, Kao has lots of platform game tropes; collapsing and springy platforms, sliding down slopes, grinding rails, exploding trick pickups, extra lives, pieces of a health heart, hitting a boss character 3 times, running out of the screen Crash Bandicoot or Uncharted-style—you name it Kao seems to have to navigate it. Platform games have frequently had sections that you had to 'monkey swing' through, and Kao has a unique trick for this: ear swinging! Maybe he uses his ears because he can't grip with his boxing gloves, who knows? But Kao navigates areas that have overhangs by holding on and swinging by his ears and stretching his neck to reach objects hanging low down–it's a kinda clever game mechanic, and quite a sight. The game also has some basic puzzles involving elemental effects; ice freezes water, fire melts ice, wind moves objects etc.
Okay so now to Kao's less enjoyable aspects. Kao has a slightly umm... ropey swinging mechanic that is done by holding 'X' to lasso a hook and releasing it at the right moment to swing across a gap. Kao swings a bit too quickly, and makes timing tricky, and he just loves to just slip off a platform rather than grab an edge. There are also a lot of "gravity fails," with objects not falling when you destroy the thing they're standing on, and crabs that hover in mid air when you've clearly punched them off a cliff edge. There's a lot of clipping and invisible walls and little gaps that are just big enough to fall to your death through, which would have had the Dalai Lama chucking his controller in frustration. There are also gaps behind crates and other scenery to fall into that make the camera spasm so you lose your bearings—you'll be glad you can accrue over 20 lives. We suffered a few problems with the sound. Music seems to go missing at times and there was one moment at the end of the game where Kaia's dialogue was practically drowned out by static. All these minor problems pale into insignificance alongside Kao's arbitrary tendency for achievements (and trophies on PlayStation), to fail to pop, which is always annoying when you finished and (mostly) enjoyed a game (as I did) but didn't get credited for it. This could put a lot of gamers off buying it, which is a shame all round as it seems to be very random as to whether you get the achievements you earned or not.
There's nothing much wrong with Kao the Kangaroo, but at a price of £24.99 I would expect a bit more polish than we actually got. Hopefully a patch can help, but the current issues stop me from giving this fun platform adventure a higher score.