Release Date: November 11, 2005
Pre-order 'KAMEO: Elements of Power': Xbox 360
Of all the titles Microsoft recently unveiled for the impending XBox 360 launch, perhaps the most polished is Rare's Kameo: Elements of Power. It's easy to miss your guess with Kameo and think it's some sort of RPG, and the game is often described as something comparable to The Legend of Zelda. After spending a few hours with it at an XBox 360 event, however, there was nothing Zelda or RPG-like to be found about the title. Kameo turned out to be an exercise in pure platforming action with no more RPG elements present than you'd find in, say, Ratchet: Deadlocked.
Speaking of Sony titles, fans of the old Jak and Daxter platformers can expect to get a big kick out of Kameo. A lot of the game's look and feel is similar to the older Jak titles, although Kameo's graphics and physics are obviously superior. It's not quite a revolutionary step upwards in graphic quality - there's still the odd invisible wall - but when exploring the grasslands or the massive castle area the game begins with, there are countless little details in the environment to remind you that you're not playing an XBox game. You can see individual blades of grass waving in the wind, even when looking over a distant plain from above. The particle physics is startlingly accurate, with utterly convincing sprays of sparks and plumes of smoke. Flames are not entirely realistic but far more convincing than any XBox offering I can name offhand. You can see all kinds of realistic texture details in the castle cobblestones and the dirt paths you cross on your journey.
Kameo tells an utterly simple, almost archetypal video game story. When time came to hand out the supreme elven magic of Transformation, Kameo got chosen over her older sister, who expressed her displeasure by becoming evil and unleashing the Trolls on the world. She also kidnapped her family, with only Kameo escaping. As the story begins, you guide Kameo through an escape from her castle as Trolls lay siege to it. Eventually the story deprives her of some of her magic, so you must perform some quests to regain her monster abilities.
Kameo herself is an unusual video game heroine, with her sexy miniskirt balanced out by her slightly grotesque transformations into three different monsters. One resembles an armadillo and could roll up into a spiked ball, another was a thorn-covered plant monster that faintly resembled something out of a Digimon episode, and the final form was a sort of monstrous yeti with spikes growing from its back. The monster forms are infinitely more powerful and useful than Kameo herself, whose only attack is an awkward spinning kick. Instead, you'll use the plant monster to box enemies to death, or have the yeti hurl giant ice spikes, or roll the armadillo's spiked form over enemies.
Kameo has one of the most delightfully simple control schemes you'll find in the launch wave titles. Use the left analog stick to move and the right analog stick to control the camera with amazing precision. You don't get any of the free-moving camera that gets stocks in the geometry or ends up moving on its own anyway in Kameo; for once, you have a camera that completely does what you tell it to.
You use Kameo's ability to transform into different monsters with the face buttons. Once transformed, each monster has different abilities activated by the L1 and R1 trigger buttons, used separately or together. Monsters also have a variety of context-sensitive abilities that the game slowly reveals to you through tutorials. The tutorials are instated as "help pages" that float in each level, which you can read by tapping the A button. This has the pleasant side-effect of letting advanced players skip through uninteresting or irrelevant tutorial sequences, and even average players can simply wait until having trouble before seeking out a tutorial sequence.
It's really the details that make Kameo an interesting gaming experience, and they seem to be the focus of Rare's work with this game. This approach could be very frustrating with current gen titles, whose graphics and camera systems often weren't up to the tasks the engine demanded of the player. In Kameo, though, you can reasonably expect to find the one particular ramp you need that's hidden behind the chain link fence just by examining your surroundings carefully. Then, you'll actually be able to angle the camera just right to make the rolling leap that takes you up the ramp and into a small pipe, where you'll have to use incredibly precise dodging maneuvers to avoid the bombs being thrown at you by an angry Troll.
Similarly, a later fight against a Shadow Troll boss involves turning the entire screen into a negative image of its usual colors. For a current gen game, this would render the fight an incomprehensible mess, but while playing Kameo on an HDTV you can still see well enough to launch fireballs and take out the boss. Some of the more precision-oriented sequences in the game seem like they might present problems to a player using a non-HD television display, however, so interested players had better hope their TVs are up to Kameo's demands.
Kameo feels a lot like the current gen's often kid-oriented platformers as you play it, but seems geared as something any potential player can enjoy. The violence can be a little bit too gruesome for very small gamers, as most of Kameo's monster forms have abilities that involve impaling enemies on spikes. On the other hand, the violence doesn't feel very brutal despite the blood and green goo that flies around as Kameo demolishes her enemies. Basically, it's no Conker, but it's no Donkey Kong Country, either. Parents can easily play this alongside their kids, but may not want to sit impressionable or sensitive children down alone with a copy.
Right now it looks like Kameo is the only platformer that fans of the genre can hope to see at launch for the 360. Rare's track record with the genre is fairly impressive, so fans can look forward to an experience that is at the very least solid and entertaining. We didn't get to spend more than mere hours with the game as it stands now, so there's no telling how much depth the final version ultimately has. New 360 owners will have the chance to find out for themselves in late November.
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