Developer: Tate Interactive
Release Date: TBA
Picture the scene: somewhere on the coast of Australia sits the squat gray office of the Committee Regarding Animal Mascot Platformers (Australian branch, of course), and lately, the workers there have been toiling tirelessly day and night. Australian characters make up a surprisingly large chunk of your cute animal platformer cast, from Australian standbys like Crash Bandicoot and Ty the Tasmanian Tiger, to bit roles (half of the squirrels in the upcoming Conker game are Australian extras). It's no surprise that occasionally one or two of their characters go on to become stars in their own game line, figures of success willing to take their place in the halls of video game history.
Then there's Kao the Kangaroo, who appears to have shown up in line holding a box full of gameplay segments from other and better games (with the serial numbers filed off) and sweet-talked his way into a sequel somehow.
Playing Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2 is the video game equivalent of sitting around playing with your navel. It's time you could spend doing other things, you've already seen everything it can do, and it isn't going to surprise you in any way. In spite of that, it can occasionally feel kind of fulfilling. It's not fulfilling in a lasting way, of course, but there is something good buried deep in it, if you keep at it long enough.
That was the worst string of analogies ever. I'm going to go back to talking about the game now.
Kao, as most platformers do, involves a lot of running around, jumping from platform to platform, and fending off a variety of enemies. These enemies come in forms that range from making some sense – okay, bees hate kangaroos, who knew? – to no sense at all, such as the crazy dwarves wielding giant hammers who inhabit every few feet of Kao's world. Kao has a nice range of tricks available to him to deal with danger: he can grab walls and throw out punch-punch-kick combos and whip boomerangs around. He's also really good at jumping, as might be expected. (Indeed, one of the first "upgrades" you get is a jumping boost. I am slightly baffled by this, as jumping is the area of the gameplay that needs the least help.)
The storyline is, frankly, forgettable. After the events of the first game, Kao was kidnapped by an Evil Hunter and put in the cargo bay of a ship headed towards an island, presumably to be sold off into slavery or to a zoo somewhere. Kao's faithful bird companion frees him from his cage, and Kao struggles out of the cargo bay and into the mission hub.
From there, things kind of wander off. There are baby animals in cages which Kao has to free, you have to gather up gems to pay off guards (presumably in the employ of the Hunter, but they seem pretty amiable to being paid off anyway), unlock new areas, and occasionally you're challenged by a boss bad guy, like the giant witch doctor who attacks you for no particular reason at the end of a treetop stage. Stringing together logical consistency was not the goal of Kao's developers.
What was the goal of Kao's designers was to provide an exciting platformer experience for the younger set, and as long as they've never played a platform game before, it'll be fine and fun. Really, Kao has a few good points. For one thing, it's the first platformer game I've played in a long time where (as mentioned above) the hero really doesn't need help with platforming. Kao almost always lands square on a platform, and if he starts to slide off, he'll grab right back on. It's actually pretty hard to miss a jump if you're anywhere near landing it.
The graphics also count as a high point – bright, full of colored lighting and pretty images, this is a very good looking game. There are rainbows, the ice is stunningly shiny, and in general, things don't look bad. I realize that "There are rainbows" may be a criteria for good graphics that only I possess, but it's my review.
Unfortunately, Kao the Kangaroo 2 is really not going to impress anyone on the audio front. The audio isn't really all that impressive, full of the bips and bops that characterize bright, cartoonish games like this. The voices, such as they are, are pretty flat-sounding as well. The gameplay is really straightforward, doing nothing in particular that's new and recreating moments like the good old-fashioned "running towards the camera" chase scene or "ride this animal around herding other animals into a bin" mini-game.
Controls are decent, even more so if you have a gamepad handy. The keyboard commands can occasionally tangle up your fingers just from the sheer number of them, and this isn't a game where you can completely forget about a move or two and expect to get through all right. You'll need to be able to make Kao do everything he can do, sooner or later.
Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2 doesn't have what it takes to go toe-to-toe with the best platformers around, but it can hold up to criticism, particularly among games for its target age group. The problem is that it's simply mundane. It isn't innovative, but what game for kids this age is? The problem is really that it's mediocre, one of the most uncomplicated and wrinkleless play experiences I've had in months. Kao is clearly set to appeal to young gamers, people who haven't played any of the games that do what Kao does better. At that, it succeeds, but it could have aimed higher and actually been a lot of fun.