Story

There’s nothing to really say about the story in all honesty, Kao has a nightmare where his sister is taken by the unimaginatively named “terror”. Kao then wakes up and says to his mum that something has happened to his sister, just like their dad who went missing, she decides she cannot stop him, and the adventure begins from there. It ends in a very dull anti climatic battle, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Gameplay

The story of platformers tends to be inconsequential for the most part with 3D platformers, although games like Banjo Kazooie and their slapstick antics show how high the genre can hit in this regard. The real question is how it feels to play, and how are the levels and general design?

Well, this is where the game is surprisingly decent in some regards. The general movement of Kao feels quite good, unfortunately the animation transition from hop to sprint leaves a lot to be desired, the general weight, movement and speed of Kao feels great. I have seen some comments on the jumping, but I think the jumping is actually pretty good, at peak jump I will admit the weight could feel a little bit better, but this is one of the best modern 3d platformers I have played in terms of feel. Thankfully this also translates to the combat.

The combat is very basic and just results in dodging, mashing X and pressing Y for a heavy attack when you rage meter is built. What makes it stand out however is the weight of it all, the animations, speed and camera shake and hit stun on impact makes the punches of Kao feel extremely impactful. This actually surprised me, they really nailed the combat’s feel, it is basic but most 3d platformer combat is, Kao gets top marks in this department of modern 3d platformers.

So how are the levels? Well, this is a mixed bag, the game is generally comprised of an overworld area, with entrances to levels within it, which require X number of runes to access. The overworlds are generally well designed, albeit very tiny. They have some backtracking as some areas will be cornered off until you get new abilities, however it feels very inconsequential. The levels unfortunately do not get much better, they are well designed, and are by no means bad, however nothing, including the enemies stick out. They are also extremely linear. Rather than feeling like a greatest hit collection, it feels like an average hits collection. Neither the enemy designs, boss battles, or platforming stick out. Right now, I am trying to remember the best levels, and nothing really sticks out. Even when levels try to mix up the formula, they are just grinding on rails or something else done a million times before. It’s more competent than other modern attempts at a 3d platform revival but I’d much rather go back and play Banjo Kazooie.

So, what about the collectables you say? Well, this would not be a platformer without them, however it doesn’t really feel like it does have them, even though they are present. They are heart pieces which increase your health and some of which can be bought at stores in each overworld for 500 coins, there’s also letters to collect, scrolls which give you a bit or lore and diamonds. Coins can also be used to purchase costumes. The problem is I have only ever found a use for the coins and nothing else. The other stuff is just there because they are always there in 3d platformers. This would be fine if the levels were fun and memorable as you would want to go back to these worlds and explore them again. Unfortunately, they do not…

Sound

The worst part of Kao the Kangaroo is by far the voice acting, it is beyond awful. No one feels like they are absorbed into the world and just feel like they are reading a script and getting paid. The attempts at humour fall flat due to poor writing and delivery, everything just feels incredibly amateur.

Unfortunately, the soundtrack and sound effects etc don’t fair much better. They fall distinctly into mid territory, they are neither bad nor good, they just do their job. I ended up just muting the audio and having other things on in the background, the entire audio package falls flat. Which tends to be the case with most 3D platformers. Grant Kirkhope is obviously an icon in the industry and this genre, and even though his tracks these days feel relatively generic at least they are catchy and well composed and mixed.

Graphics

Visually the game is quite nice, the art style is great, and it is nice to look at from an artistic standpoint. It is quite close to the style of crash 4. Things are kind of blocky but in a very cartoony way. Given the low budget of the game they absolutely nailed the visual design. I would like to have seen less use of stock UE4 however.

Performance

This is a bit of a mixed bag. For starters, while you can edit settings in an INI file like most unreal games, the in-game settings leave a lot to be desired. There is a v-sync option and a mere 2 graphics options, AA and Visuals both going from low to ultra.  There is also no mouse acceleration options etc under controls.

On my 8700K, 16GB RAM and 3080 OC rig, on a 4k supersample I can get 120-140 fps (capped at 140). It looks great and runs well enough. I would say however, due to the use of a lot of stock effects performance could be better, GPU usage often maxes out with very little going on. On a beefy PC this is not a problem, as they FPS is usually very high anyway. However, on the low end this is not ideal optimization at all.

Which brings me to the steam deck. On my deck I ended up capping the framerate to 45 by enabling vsync and reducing the hertz to 45, which delivers decent frame times. I ran the game on high at the native 800p, you can hit 60fps on medium on deck but it is nowhere near consistent, and medium removes majority if not all shadows which is a massive visual hit. At high, I could maintain 45fps most of the time. When I can not it drops to around 35fps in worst case scenarios. The deck does have a CPU bottleneck, which can be seen in games such as God of War. However, in this case the CPU is not being hit heavy at all, so this is a limit of the deck’s GPU, however given what is on screen in Kao, the GPU Usage and performance if far from ideal. It should easily be hitting 60. Low end machines definitely show optimization issues with the game. So ultimately my advice is cap at 45, set it to high and enable vsync for the best IQ to performance experience. The deck’s internal fps limited adds a significant amount of input lag currently and should be avoided at all costs.  

Also the configuration settings follow though due to the way the games have built the game, so if you swap between PC and Deck you will have to go back into video settings and so on and change them to the settings you want on the platform you are playing.

Compared to the switch which appears to be sub 720p and runs at 30fps with drops, the deck offers a superior handheld experience.

Conclusion

So overall Kao is a welcome edition to the modern 3D platformer revival, it does not do anything to be remembered, or demand a sequel however. While I would personally like to see a sequel with a bigger budget, it is a firm MID platformer, that excels and nothing and is completley forgettable. That being said, voice acting aside it does nothing bad either. Unfortunately, it is very short and can be completed in under 5 and a half hours.

It is a solid 7/10 platformer that I would recommend on a sale. It retails at £24.99 in the UK, however it’s prices in regions like Brazil and Argentina are absurd, in fact in Argentina it is sold on Steam at 597% the recommend valve price. This makes it extremely hard to recommend depending on your region. If you enjoy 3d platformers and come in expecting nothing special and get it on sale you will have a good time.

7/10

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