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Kao The Kangaroo Preview – Underdog From Down Under

When you think of platforming mascots, you likely think of A-listers like Mario, Sonic, and Crash. Drop it down a notch to the B-squad and heroes like Rayman or Gex should start popping in your head. Going all the way down to the C-tier mascots and things start to get a bit obscure. Cyprien, Scaler, Vexx, is that you?

This “I swear I saw that game on a shelf” vibe is exactly where Kao the Kangaroo resides. He’s not a big star, but he’s just big enough to be getting a nostalgia-fueled reboot that aims to bring him back into the 21st century. From what I’ve played of the game so far, it’s incredibly reminiscent of Kao’s original outings, although it seems to bring over some of the same problems too.

Related: Lego Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga Doesn't Need An Upgrade SystemSurprisingly, the rebooted Kao leans a lot more into the story than I expected. Although most platformers tend to have a general goal and then just let you get on with it, Kao is focused on the mystery of what happened to Kao’s dad and sister, and what exactly powers his boxing gloves.

I’m not against having a bit more story and character interaction, but it’s not the strongest here. Kao is marketed as having an attitude, but he mostly just screeches out questions in a grating voice and delivers slight jabs at the people he’s talking to, and the rest of the cast barely make an impact at all, save for Kao’s wise master Walt who has a few good lines.

There were a few good moments during my playtime, such as the relationship between Kao and his mother being pretty sweet and the occasional in-game banter between Kao and his gloves, but it’s also offset by cringe jokes about TikTok. It’s all going to depend on how those mysteries play out to see if it was worth focusing on. All of my playtime had Kao asking the same questions of where his sister is over and over without any kind of buildup to what might happen, but it’s not the most interesting mystery to start with. I’d be happy to be surprised and suddenly care about Kao’s family, but at least it’s a more interesting take on the character than we’ve seen before considering his most unique attribute up until now was that his neck stretches in water (it still does, thank god).

Beyond that new story focus, Kao the Kangaroo is exactly what it used to be – a simplistic level-based 3D platformer with some light combat sections that are bolstered by collectibles to find to scratch that completionist itch. The only difference here is that it’s much prettier and feels ever so slightly slowed down since Kao the Kangaroo Round 2, putting a bit more weight onto Kao and his movements this time around.

Although Kao does introduce some concepts that are new to the series, such as a grappling hook, it doesn’t do anything that I haven’t seen in a platformer before. In-game challenge levels, collectible letters, simplistic combat – it’s all been done before, and it’s not done with any particular shine added on here to make it stand out. It’s just more of the same.

Ironically, that seems to be the point. By doing nothing but emulating what other games in the genre have done, Kao the Kangaroo is perfectly rebooting itself. That’s really all that the original Kao games were, a pastiche of ideas from other platformers at the time blended into one with some boxing gloves shoved on, and that’s what you’re getting here, albeit with a bigger focus on the story.

Thankfully, that’s not really that much of an issue. Kao the Kangaroo might not be all that original, but running and jumping feel satisfyingly weighty and the levels feel surprisingly varied. They’re split into the typical biomes, such as having jungle, lava, and snow levels, but they all have a unique focus, such as one level high in the trees that has you using the aforementioned grappling hook to swing around and complete puzzles to unlock doors.

Although you’ll mainly be running from A to B, Kao is given a few abilities to complete puzzles, such as being able to light your gloves on fire to burn down webs or wooden structures, or punching crystals to reveal hidden platforms. They’re pretty simple, but they help keep things a little more interesting as you play.

Sadly, despite combat also being a big part of Kao’s identity, in case the massive boxing gloves didn’t clue you in, interesting isn’t a word I could use to describe it. Every single enemy I encountered could be taken down with a few punches, and in the case of a few with specific moves, Kao has so much health you can just tank the hit and not even think about it. It’s a bit of a shame that more wasn’t done with combat, as it feels like it could have been where Kao could have differentiated itself from other platformers a bit more.

I’m not sure if the final world of Kao will turn around and flip the genre on its head, or if the post-game will suddenly reinvent platformers as we know them, but I imagine when the full game comes around it’ll just be more of the same simplistic fun. As a Kao fan, I can say that that’s more than enough for me, but I hope it has enough there to keep fans of the genre happy too.

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