In the silver age of gaming, console mascots reigned supreme. SEGA belonged to Sonic the Hedgehog, PlayStation was carried by Crash Bandicoot, and Nintendo was practically owned by Mario. No gamer was worth their salt unless they had a favorite, and no gaming environment could be great until it was stuffed with images of big, cartoonish characters. Never among those company symbols, however, was Kao the Kangaroo. The Polish platformer hopped his way onto the Game Boy and Dreamcast in 2000 but was never able to secure the kind of following that studio Tate Multimedia was hoping to acquire. As a result, the series was shelved in 2005 after a measly three games, and Kao, quickly forgotten by popular culture, fell into obscurity. That is, until now.
Somehow, Kao the Kangaroo returned. After a re-release of the franchise’s second game landed on Steam, the series developed a surprise cult following that convinced Tate Multimedia to give the whole thing another shot. Unfortunately, the Kao reboot is anything but a knockout. Instead of a triumphant re-imagining of the character and his universe, fans receive a rather sub-par retreading of the same old thing. Not only in relation to the previous games in the franchise, but also to the countless other platforming mascots in existence. Nothing much stands out when playing through the story, and the gameplay itself is a pretty standard affair.
The plot concerns the titular kangaroo as he discovers his long-lost father’s magical boxing gloves. A gifted fighter, he begins using them to make his way through hordes of dark creatures, locate his missing sister, and uncover the mystery of the “Eternal Warrior” who threatens his world. The premise has a lot of potential but ultimately falls flat in its execution. Kao and his supporting cast lack the charm required to draw the player in and oftentimes come off as more obnoxious than they do likable. It feels mean to say, but the voice acting is also laughably terrible. Kao himself has the energy of the infamous Tommy Wiseau, causing many of his sentences to come out as total meme material. His dialogue is supposed to be funny, but not in the way it ends up coming across.
Kao the Kangaroo‘s best attribute is its level design. The look of the world is colorful and alive, and the arrangement of its platforms provides the biggest challenge of an otherwise simple game. Players who aren’t skilled in platforming may find the traversal aspect of the game a welcome challenge. In fact, the project might have been better off if it leaned further into Kao’s kangaroo features than it does his boxing gloves. Encountering moments of combat was usually a bit disappointing, with underwhelming enemies dispatched easily. While the design of the malevolent, anthropomorphic baddies is pretty fun, they’re typically done away with after just a few punches or tailspins and only really served to break the flow of travel.
More interesting than the actual story of Kao are its side quests, which aren’t truly side quests. In actuality, they’re just little offshoots from the main path that lead to collectibles and treasure chests filled with coins. These tend to be the best part of any level, and are always worth seeking out during the main objective. The coins can be used to modify Kao in the central hub area, which doubles as the protagonist’s hometown and base of operations. Players are brought back here after each level, where they are then able to train, explore, and find dark runes that open doorways to further progress the plot. Whether or not a monetary system belongs in a mascot platforming game is debatable, but here it at least adds something to the experience. Kao can also interact with the citizens of this little town, which is actually quite entertaining. Much like Kao, they usually say something ridiculous with the utmost confidence.
Truthfully, it’s a shame that Kao the Kangaroo isn’t better than it is. Mascot platformers are becoming far and few between, and there was a real hope that Tate Multimedia might be able to turn that trend around with their latest effort. Unfortunately, this doesn’t appear to be the case. The project ends up being a pretty lame, deflated attempt at the genre. It almost feels as if the studio only put a portion of its energy into developing Kao, resulting in a marsupial that can’t seem to land on his feet.