The 3D platformer is a storied and well-known genre, but for every masterpiece like Mario Odyssey or Banjo Kazooie there’s anaemic examples like Vexx or Busby 3D. There are, of course, those that sit somewhere in the middle. Kao the Kangaroo’s original adventure was firmly in that camp, a thoroughly average adventure appearing on Dreamcast and PC at the turn of the millennium. Much like a new James Blunt album, the return of Kao the Kangaroo is unlikely to offend or excite anyone, but it probably has more redeeming qualities than you might be expecting.
Kao the Kangaroo sees Kao Junior donning his father’s cursed boxing gloves and setting off on an adventure of his own. Living on the idyllic Hopalloo Island, Kao’s off to search for his missing sister, and attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding his Dad’s disappearance. There’s not too much else for you to think about, but it sets you up for boxing with bad guys and a steady stream of things to hop on or over. It does those things pretty well.
There’s an odd tone to Kao, ranging from its verbose exposition to random references – Simon and Garfunkel, Skyrim and TikTok, just for starters – but it feels very genuine and heartfelt as well. The breezy hub world of Hopalloo Island has some lovely summer vibes, while the expanding system of levels bring in lava strewn caverns, jungles filled with tendrils of vines, and icy reaches. It’s bright and vibrant, while the characterful art style has a touch of Crash Bandicoot about it.
Kao is resolutely old-school, and that goes from the host of required and optional collectibles in each area to the annoyingly spaced checkpoints. It’s all here: double jumps, mashing a single button to pull off combos, butt stomps, and a bunch of other things you’ve seen a hundred times before. The most old-school annoyance is the limited number of lives. Lose them all and it’s back to the start of a whole area, forcing you to replay entire sections that you’d previously made it through. While you can pick up or buy more lives, there’s no straightforward reward for nabbing 100 coins like the Italian plumber gets.
For all of that, Kao is resolutely enjoyable. It’s scrappy for sure, but there’s a lot of fun to be found here. The combat is surprisingly solid; Kao’s power punches have a real sense of weight and connection, and his platforming antics are mostly very precise, allowing you to traverse areas with speed and style. It’s a throwback, but one that manages to emphasise the positives even though it renews some tired old negatives.
The bosses are a highlight too, with multi-stage attack patterns moving them well beyond my genre expectation of them being done after three hits. Admittedly, when I wasn’t expecting them to put up quite so much of a fight some frustration crept in, but they are surmountable. It’s not quite Elden Ring.
This does mean that despite Kao’s child-friendly graphics, it’s often a tough challenge that young children are going to struggle with. My six-year-old loved playing sections of the game, but I had to be on hand to help him through. That does make for some lovely family bonding though.
Kao the Kangaroo is, at times, noticeably simple in its execution. You’ll find items of scenery with incredibly modest animations (I swear they might have lifted some of them from the 2000 original) and the puzzling is mostly asking you to work out what direction to go. Your cursed boxing gloves acquire different qualities as you progress, and Kao becomes a more experienced kangaroo, earning new abilities to keep the game flowing. While fun, boomerangs and tube grinding are genre mainstays rather than fresh reinventions. Kao feels like a heartfelt homage though, rather than a paper-thin photocopy.