KAO the Kangaroo is a fun, lighthearted platform action game with colorful graphics, challenging and varied levels, and fast-paced gameplay. The game stars Kao, a young kangaroo that has been captured from the wild and has been taken far away from his family. In order to get back home, Kao must use his two main skills--jumping and boxing--to overcome more than 45 levels filled with treacherous obstacles and comical enemies. In addition to the general obstacle-course-style levels that involve a traditional mix of jumping across pits, punching enemies, and collecting power-ups, the game includes several levels based on different extreme sports. These levels are interspersed among the rest of the levels, and they give the game a nice sense of variety. Though the production values of the game are on par with most other games in the genre, it is evident that the developer could have spent more time fixing some minor bugs that appear occasionally in the game.
The game begins with a simple animated sequence of Kao playing with his friends, only to get caught in a cage and taken away. The graphics in this scene, as well as throughout the game, are bright and cheerful, even in the most dangerous levels. The cartoon-style characters and the clean, straightforward 3D environments give the game a sense of lightheartedness, even when Kao falls victim to the gameworld's many dangers. One of the biggest problems you might encounter is the somewhat unpredictable movement of the third-person perspective camera, but you can overcome this problem once you become accustomed to the game, either by making some slight changes to Kao's position or by using the recentering button and the first-person perspective button. However, the game occasionally does automatically set itself to a specific point of view, such as when a large boulder comes rolling down a passageway after Kao, and in other cases, Kao must traverse levels that seem better suited to a side view than a third-person perspective. As you will notice with many other aspects of the game, these camera changes are somewhat frustrating at first, but once you get used to them, they become just another part of the game.
KAO the Kangaroo's sound and music are appropriate. Each level features an upbeat soundtrack, and most of Kao's moves have an accompanying sound effect, which gives a little more punch to the kangaroo's punches. Unfortunately, the sound and music both tend to become repetitious, and you may end up turning them off. Luckily, sound doesn't play a critical role in the game, so you can enjoy Kao equally well both with and without sound.
Part of what makes Kao enjoyable is the mix of traditional platform game mechanics and the occasional extreme sports experience. The gameplay in the more traditional levels is similar to many other platform action games, although Kao's collection of moves helps make the game a bit more interesting. For instance, Kao has a number of different options when he encounters an enemy. To avoid the enemy, he can use a combination of running, jumping, and sidestepping; to attack the enemy at close range, he can use his one-two punch and tail swipe; or to defeat an opponent from a distance, he can throw a boxing glove--Kao's equivalent of a guided missile.
KAO the Kangaroo's level design is fun, although it can be frustrating at times, even on the easiest difficulty setting. Most levels require multiple attempts to complete, and some are fairly long and complicated. Fortunately, Kao begins the game with a number of reserve lives and can earn extra lives both by collecting single power-ups and by collecting 50 of the gold coins that are scattered throughout each level. In addition, you can place checkpoints partway along the levels. As with many other similar games, checkpoints cause any additional lives to start at that point in the level, rather than from the beginning. Kao starts each level with a set number of checkpoints and can find more along the way.
The extreme sports levels seem a bit like playtime after working harder on the traditional platform action levels. This isn't to say they aren't challenging, but they are generally less intense than the other levels. Some of the extreme sports levels include hang-gliding over a river of lava, skating down a curving ice ramp, and snowboarding along a mountain course complete with jumps and banked turns.
The 25 main levels in the game are split into five distinct worlds, and at the end of each world there's a "boss level," which consists of a one-on-one fight between Kao and a powerful and challenging enemy. In most cases Kao's usual attacks won't affect the boss, so you must discover the trick to defeat it. In addition to the regular levels and boss levels, you can also find several bonus levels along the way. These bonus levels usually consist of a large number of gold coins spread around a small area with a higher concentration of traps or enemies than you'll find on ordinary levels. The reward can be great if you complete these levels, but they tend to be riskier. Since it takes 50 gold coins to get an extra life, you have to be sure of your skills before venturing into one of these bonus levels.
One of the more disappointing things about KAO the Kangaroo is its fairly frequent--and distracting--bugs. The game frequently has problems starting up--we tried it on two different test systems and encountered the same problems--but once the game is running, bugs are fairly rare. Usually after restarting the computer or ejecting and reinserting the CD-ROM once or twice, the game will start successfully. We also encountered occasional crashes while running the game.
Another small problem with the game is its lack of distinction between the easy, medium, and hard difficulty settings. In some parts of the game it's difficult to see any real difference at all between the three modes, although there are some simple numerical changes--where there is only one trap on the easy setting, there may be three or four in a row on the hard setting--but these changes do little to alter the fundamental difficulty of the levels. Nevertheless, although some players new to platform action games might find even the easy setting fairly difficult, the game's general difficulty is appropriate for most players.
Despite these deterrents, KAO the Kangaroo is an enjoyable platform action game. Its bright, colorful environments and endearing marsupial hero make the game appropriate for children, while its clean 3D graphics and varied level design make it a good choice for older fans of the genre as well.