Developer Rare has become somewhat of a “golden child” in the industry. Despite extremely long development times, they have a track record of releasing final products that, for the most part, shine above the rest. Goldeneye for the N64 set the benchmark for first-person shooters in 1997, achieving a level of quality in which all shooters to follow have been compared. Their shooter genre follow up came in 2000 when Perfect Dark was released, again on the N64, and delivered yet another shooter of exceptional fun with a top-tier presentation. This was followed by a five year rut of mediocre titles, leading many industry personalities to remark that “Rare” must actually have something to do with the frequency of titles released that were actually worthwhile. Here in 2005 it was announced that the now Microsoft-owned development house would be releasing not one, but two new titles for the launch of Microsoft’s next-gen console, the Xbox 360. One of them would be the next-gen sequel Perfect Dark Zero, and the other would be the platform title Kameo: Elements of Power that had been in development for five years and had originally been destined for two previous consoles. Many doubted both titles would be ready for launch, and even more felt that developing dual titles for the same time frame would ensure mediocre quality for both. As it turns out, both camps could not have been more wrong.
After just a few short minutes of gameplay, you will begin to realize that you are about to enjoy a title that will be a success. Players assume the role of Kameo, a tiny elf princess with a major attitude and magical ass-kicking skills to back it up, in the form of fairy wings and the ability to morph into various different creatures. The graphical presentation will be the first thing you notice coming at you in all of its shiny, next-gen candy-like goodness. All of the various locales throughout the game retain the same level of beauty, from the Badlands’ heat effects to the Snow Temples bright, shimmering ice effects. As a matter of fact, Kameo’s beauty is so strong that you just might find yourself pausing to enjoy the visuals, with all of the expected ice, heat, and water effects players find in these type of platformers. Kameo’s alter egos (the various creatures she can morph into) all possess their own personalities and skills, and are, at times, just plain hilarious to watch and control. The entire game is bathed in the colors and shapes you would expect from a kid-friendly Saturday morning cartoon, but it also indulges itself in the slightly-more-disturbing type of imagery older players will enjoy. The game is just simply beautiful to look at.
The sound design is also exceptional, with full orchestral arrangements and top shelf sound effects. Most of the character dialogue is easy on the ears and at times downright hysterical. Some of the character’s accents really lend themselves to laughing out loud, and some of the subtler sound effects really serve to immerse players in the shiny, candy-like world of Kameo. The game makes superb use of 5.1 surround sound, so if playing on a properly equipped system, one can really lose themselves in this animated world.
In its essence, Kameo is a platformer. As our story opens, Kameo finds herself in the unenviable position of having to rescue her kidnapped family from an evil older sister and defeat the rising hordes of the Troll Kingdom who are staging an uprising at the same time. Kameo starts off in possession of only one of the ten “Elemental Warriors” she will need to succeed in her quests. One by one, bit by bit, Kameo earns back all ten Warriors. As you would also expect in platformers of this ilk, each creature will possess a certain type of elemental skill (fire, ice, water, etc). Knowing when and where to use each type of warrior is, of course, the key to Kameo’s gameplay and story progression. Done before? Sure… but players will be hard pressed to remember another title that handles these concepts as well as this one does… with Kameo, you can almost tell where the time and money spent in development paid off. Even the puzzle sequences are melded into the flow of the game in such a way that nothing feels ‘tacked on’ or cheap.
All is not lollipops and rainbows with Kameo, however. There are a few grievances with the controls and some design decisions. For instance, certain sequences can become excessively frustrating because they require quick switching of warriors, and every one of them handles differently. There is no lock-on feature for zeroing in on enemies (considering how close to Zelda the gameplay here feels, that is very surprising) and it is sorely missed. Also, rounding out the few complaints is the game’s length. A good ten hours is all most moderately skilled gamers will need to blow through the entire single player challenge. The multiplayer co-op mode is pretty much a waste of time and offers no added fun but a lot of added frustration.
All in all, Kameo is a great start for the platforming genre on the next-gen systems. There really is nothing within the game that is pushing boundaries or knocking the gaming world on its ear with innovation, but what is there is familiar, fun, and presented very, very well. Every level is designed intelligently and none of the game’s flaws bring it down to a level that saps the joy from the whole experience, as long as you stay away from the co-op mode. Platforming fans have something next-gen to crow about.