Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2 (PC)

Among the more obscure mascot platformers, Kao the Kangaroo from Polish developer Tate Interactive (now Tate Multimedia) was one that had slipped under my radar. So much, in fact, I was not fully aware of it until the second game, Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2, was released on Steam in 2019, when it was offered for free for 24 hours to promote a new Kao game in development. Since I knew it was the second game in the series, I tried looking into playing the first game, only to find that it was both hard to find and expensive second-hand. With this in mind, I opted to skip straight to the second game in order to see what exactly Kao the Kangaroo was. For a game originally released on sixth-generation consoles, I thought it held up really well, though not without issue.

Some time after the events of the first game (presumably), Kao has been captured by his nemesis, the Hunter. After his friend Parrot helps him escape, Kao’s mission is to stop the Hunter from capturing any more of the animals. First, however, Kao needs to collect 3000 Ducats in order to pay off a Bossman to get to him.

The gameplay is like a linear 3D platformer, though there are some open areas that encourage exploration and open up gameplay variety. Combat takes the form of melee punches and tail swipes, though you can also roll to increase speed or dodge attacks, while a stomp attack can take care of some enemies or activate buttons to unlock the next area. Some sections also require traversing a rope ceiling, in which case Kao interestingly uses his ears, leaving his arms open for ranged attacks (and presumably it’d otherwise be difficult to climb with boxing gloves on).

There is a nice touch of environmental puzzle solving in places.

Ranged attacks open up when you pick up boomerangs, of which you can only carry 20 at a time. Aiming can be a little awkward, however you can lock on to enemies with RB (on a wired Xbox controller) for an easier time, which comes in very handy during boss fights. You can also zoom in at any time to get a closer look at your surroundings by holding LB, which humorously makes Kao use his gloves like binoculars; this also brings up your collectable progress, though this information can also be gleaned by simply tapping LB instead.

On that note, there are a handful of collectables in each level, each of which has unique benefits. The primary one, Ducats, resemble gold coins that are found either out in the open or inside breakable objects. Some breakable objects, however, carry bombs or an enemy instead, which makes the stomp attack useful in this situation to check from a distance. While you do need 3000 to access the endgame, there’s not much of a reason to collect them beyond that aside from going for 100% completion.

Aside from that, Stars can be collected either out in the open or by a drop from a defeated enemy, though defeating the same enemy does not grant you additional Stars. Every 50 Stars you collect upgrades one of your abilities automatically, such as a longer jump distance at 50 or infinite rolling at 200. Crystals are found out in the open and every 50 you collect unlocks bonus stages in the hub world, such as a jump rope challenge or interchangeably tapping two buttons to win a race. Fortunately, the game automatically saves your collectables progress, even if you leave a level early or respawn at one of the evenly-spaced checkpoints designated by a bell.

While the game runs fine, there were some issues I ran into along the way. When I booted up the game for the first time, I noticed the camera controls were inverted, and so had to do a bit of adjusting in the control settings to get things the way I wanted, which was a little bit of a struggle. As for the game itself, it’s one of those games where it doesn’t explain what buttons to use in an attempt to develop multiple SKUs, requiring some experimentation to figure out what the controls are. There are also some sections that require throwing an object, but the lack of an aiming reticle means you to have to guess the right angle to aim (though in hindsight I’ll admit I never attempted to lock on like with throwing boomerangs). On a smaller note, the steps I needed to take for the first boss fight weren’t entirely clear to me, though I understood better once I looked up a guide. Additionally, a boat racing level and a racing bonus stage both lack a mini-map one would expect from a racing game, leaving no indication as to what the shape of the track is or how far apart you are from the other racers.

There are some underwater levels in the game, but the controls are rather awkward. For starters, you have to constantly tap the jump button to swim forward, made worse by the Y-axis being inverted in these levels regardless of whether or not you adjusted the controls. Turning around is also a little slow, which is further exacerbated by the inability to move the camera independently from Kao in these segments.

Swimming is very awkward, though at least you don't have to worry about air.

A few levels have sections where you have to ride a pelican. While not as bad as in the swimming levels, the awkwardness is still there to a degree. The pelican can flap up to five times in a row to clear large gaps, and later on you can collect fish to fly farther, however the timing of said flaps is crucial in some places, including the first one, meaning you have to learn the proper timing rather quickly. While riding the pelican on foot, you can’t make a hard turn without flapping at least once, and so the wide berth required to turn otherwise can make it easy to fall off and have to respawn.

For a game from 2003, the visuals held up surprisingly well. The appealing cartoonish art style certainly helps in this regard, plus there is a lot of variety in the level design in terms of layout and appearance, allowing each level to feel unique even when sets of them are related to each other. Kao himself has a lot of personality in his movements and especially his idle animations, including one where he is revealed to be excellent at jumping rope. The voice acting is also good for what it is, with each character having different speech patterns and/or accents (with Kao having an appropriately Australian accent) to help them stand out without any of them getting annoying. I will note, however that Parrot’s speech pattern is inconsistent, since he’s introduced with a rhyming speech pattern and then drops it soon after.

One rather interesting tidbit I found out when researching the game related to one of the main collectables, Ducats. As it turns out, Ducats were an actual European currency, now defunct, which took the form of gold and silver coins, the former of which is what their in-game appearance is based on. Since Tate Multimedia is based in Poland, the usage of this currency makes more sense and is something I would not have known about otherwise.

Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2 remains a solid game from the early 2000s era of platformers. The visuals have managed to hold up well after 17 years and the gameplay has enough variety to organically keep the experience fresh, though it doesn’t have much in the way of replay value once you finish the main story aside from looking for any collectables you may have missed. Regardless, this is currently the most accessible entry in the series and is one I would recommend to people looking for a fun, if short, time. Though I’m not able to play either of the other two main entries in the series, especially with the third game released exclusively in Poland, this was enough to give me an idea of what the world and characters are like, and made me curious as to what the upcoming fourth entry might be like.

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