For decades, Kao the Kangaroo platforming mascot has languished in a refinement of obscurity. Unfortunately, his big comeback does little to change this status quo. His latest adventure is capable, but the uninspired design and noticeable technical problems make for a hollow excursion that inspires mild nostalgia at best.
Kao (pronounced “keo”) is a young kangaroo on a journey to find his missing sister and father. He enlists the help of his wise martial arts teacher and acquires a pair of magical boxing gloves. While clearly geared towards younger players, the plot, writing and performances are dull and half-hearted. The story isn’t anywhere remotely interesting, and Cao himself can be especially grateful for the poor comedic delivery. Hit the mute button or activate your favorite podcast because you probably won’t feel like you’re missing out on much experience.
The gameplay takes a page from the 3D collect-a-thons of old but the design feels simple. You spend hours roaming the massive yet-unexpected overworld collecting coins, heart pieces, lore notes, and runes to unlock platforming levels. It satisfies the part of my mind that enjoys clearing icons but it’s a hollow sense of nostalgia. The four overworlds, which include your island home, a tropical forest, and a snowy mountain, lack exciting secrets or activities beyond catching easy-to-find runs or buying cosmetic items to play dress-up.
Entering the platforming level adds to the excitement, but only barely. Kao stuns enemies with a basic flurry of punches. No matter the size or shape of the enemy, they don’t require much finesse other than mashing the attack button until they fall. Boss fights don’t get much better in terms of interest or challenge. Cao is on an old-school life counter, but I can count on one hand how many times I died. I’m not bragging; If you are capable of platformers, you will be floating in life as the game fails to provide a worthwhile challenge. Work at mostly generous checkpoints and a short schedule, and Cao is a breeze to get through.
Wearing Kao’s gloves with the magic of fire, ice, and wind grants abilities such as igniting flammable barriers, freezing water, or pulling distant platforms toward you. However, the game only has two basic ideas for each power and iterates them constantly, never mixing up puzzles or letting you use your powers in more compelling ways. The only other important mechanic involves activated crystals that make platforms disappear/reappear. Like the rest of the game, the idea feels rote and like it’s stuck in first gear.
Cao is not without its merits. It controls well, the presentation is colorful if there’s no interest, and it executes its original ideas well enough. However, technical glitches often rear their ugly head. Some works lack sound effects, which makes their effect out of whack. Broken coin pots and enemies sometimes fall out of existence when they collide. Some boss fights and cutscenes lack music, turning them into strangely silent affairs until the soundtrack starts randomly. In contrast, the theme of a boss exploded louder during the post-fight cinematic, muffled dialogue. These issues make Cao feel like a budget headline in the worst possible way.
I initially thought that Kao Kangaroo would be a great recommendation, at least for younger players. Then I remembered that generations of kids myself and I cut our teeth on games like Mario, Crash Bandicoot, or Ratchet & Clank — kid-friendly platformers that still offer lots of mechanical depth, polish, and design creativity. Kids are capable of a lot more than we can sometimes give it credit for, and Kao’s number-wise design will likely bore everyone except the most nascent of gamers. The Kao Kangaroo is by no means a total disaster. It just feels aggressively average and forgettable, which has sadly been the case for Mascot for years.