Genre: Platformer, Action/Adventure
Platform: Xbox 360
ESRB Rating: Teen 13+ (Animated Blood, Violence)
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Release Date: 11/7/05
Official Website: Kameo.com
Rare is a company that most gamers have heard of. They have a long and storied history in gaming. Primarily a second party developer for Nintendo, Rare has produced a long line of games that many may consider to be classics.
On the NES, they developed greats such as RC Pro-Am, Solar Jetman, Wizards and Warriors, and of course, Battletoads. For the SNES, they produced the incredibly popular Donkey Kong Country franchise, which single handedly brought about the resurrection of Kong as one of Nintendo’s mascots, and turned him into a good guy to boot. On the Nintendo 64, they made some of the better games for the system, such as Killer Instinct, Goldeneye and Perfect Dark. And they broke boundries with Conker’s Bad Fur day, which was one of the first Mature rated games on a Nintendo console.
Not long after finishing their Gamecube title, Star Fox Adventures, Microsoft swooped in like an eagle and purchased Rare. Two of Rare’s most anticipated titles, would be developed for a Microsoft console rather than a Nintendo one like planned. One game was a prequel to their popular N64 title, called Perfect Dark Zero. Unfortunately, they changed the original anime style of the game to a more realistic style. Regardless, the other title they had planned was Kameo.
Kameo had been in development for quite a while, and expectations were high. Many thought it would be Rare’s magnum opus. And finally, it is out, one of the first titles released for the Xbox 360 (released even before the console itself). So how does it meet the expectations of gamers? I don’t know the answer to that, because I personally had no expectations going into it. But I’m going to give you my opinion on it. And remember, it’s MY opinion. Everyone should form their own opinion about a game, and mine is just one of the many. But I hope you enjoy.
In this game, you play as Kameo, princess of the magical kingdom of elves. She has inherited the ability to transform into Elemental Warriors, which grant her special powers. It’s an ability that only her family possesses, and is granted by the Element of Power.
One day, Kameo’s sister Kalus becomes fed up with the preferential treatment given to her sister, and frees Thorn, king of the trolls, from his captivity. Together, they capture Kameo’s family and start a war on the kingdom. Thorn’s motives are clear; he feels the trolls have served the elves for long enough, without getting anything in return. Kalus, however, is more mysterious, because it doesn’t seem like simple jealously, and there is definitely more to the story.
Hot headed Kameo breaks into Thorn’s castle to free her family, only to be defeated. Not only that, but she loses her Elemental Warriors in the process. She is somehow rescued from sure death, and is guided by the Mystic in helping rescue her family and freeing the Elemental Warriors.
The story goes much deeper than that, of course, and it’s actually pretty good. Of course, there are secrets and interesting moments, all of which is pretty interesting. The only problem is HOW it’s told. The way it works is that you start out the game with a little guidance from the Mystic, go and rescue one family member, he tells you a big chunk of story, you go and do a whole bunch of stuff, then get another huge chunk of story, and so on. Unfortunately, there are only a few chunks of story, and there is no story in between, so every time you rescue someone, you get a load of bricks dropped on you, with a ton of dialogue and stuff. So again, the story itself is good, but the way it’s told is not good at all.
Graphically, this game is very pretty. It uses a lot of different colors, each appropriate with where you are. There are several different locales you visit during the course of the game, and each and every one looks very good. And they’re all quite expansive. Each place has great effects as well. To put it simply, when you’re in a location, it feels like you’re really there. For example, in the Forest Glade, the grass looks alive, the trees look alive, everything looks very alive. The same with the requisite arctic location. You can see the snow fall and glistening ice. My only real problem with environments is the water effects look kind of fake. It doesn’t look like water, but more like liquid mercury. Water almost has a metallic texture. But other than that, it’s great.
Likewise, the character models are excellent as well. The texturing that is done is fabulous. And each one of the elemental warriors looks completely different and have their own feel. Hair looks great, animation is good, and overall, they just did a really good job with character graphics. My only gripe here is that I don’t like how Kameo herself looks. She’s TOO skinny, and I hate how her jaw juts out. And I don’t really like any of the character’s eyes. They don’t have any LIFE. They could have done better with those two things.
Beyond that, I have to comment on a few things. First and foremost, I have experienced no slowdown. This is significant because this game features several battles on an epic scale. There has been more than one occasion when I have seen more than 100 separate enemies on the screen. There are several times where you have to ride a horse through a massive amount of enemies, and again, no slowdown. Whether or not we can thank the programmers or the Xbox 360’s processor, I don’t know, but it’s really nice.
Also nice is a few little things, things that I really like to see in a game. Take Ash, a dragon Elemental Warrior. He can breathe fire. While you can’t really light the environment on fire, it will leave some scorch marks and burning embers. Also, when you walk, you burn the ground, even if walking on rock. Likewise, when you are playing as Below 40 and rolling around on your snowball, you leave a track of snow in your wake. Things like that are really cool to see, and I wish every game had stuff like this, which is totally unnecessary, but really add to the experience.
The music in this game is pretty good overall, but it’s not all catchy. I wouldn’t go out and buy the OST or anything. But I will say that every piece of music fits where it is pretty well. I certainly didn’t find any music to be annoying or out of place, so they did a good job there. It just wasn’t the best music itself.
Voice acting is about the same. For the most part, the characters play their roles well, but don’t exactly stand out. There were a few moments where I thought the voice acting sounded like they were just reading from a script, but I can’t remember it, so it must not have been too glaring. So overall, they did a good job with all aspects of the music and voice departments, they just didn’t take any extra steps to make it special.
Gameplay and Control
The game inherently is about Kameo and her Elemental Warriors. Kameo herself is pretty weak and can’t do much but jump and do a flip kick. But with the Elemental Warriors in her arsenal, she can do all sorts of different things. Some of my favorites are: Chilla, who can go into an aiming mode and throw ice spears at enemies from afar; Rubble, who is a moving pile of rocks, and by attacking, he shoots one of his rocks at an enemy, or even has an attack that makes him shoot all his rocks at enemies all around him; and 40 Below, who rolls around on a snowball, and throws spiked snowballs at enemies at high velocity. You have to be careful with all attacks, though, because they almost all take up Spirit energy, though it replenishes pretty fast.
All of the Elemental Warriors have their own unique strengths and weaknesses, most of which are obvious. For example, ice is vulnerable to fire, and vice versa. Likewise, plant is vulnerable to fire, but water heals plant. What’s nice is that the Warriors even have their own back stories and everything, which can be read in the Wotnot Book.
That’s another aspect of the game that you get early on. The Wotnot Book actually has an old guy living in it that will bug you from time to time if he thinks you’re stuck in a certain area. Sometimes he’s really helpful, especially if you ARE stuck, but sometimes he’s just annoying. So it’s a hard decision if you want to turn him off or not. Either way, inside the book, you can see what Elemental Warriors you have, and upgrade your abilities for them.
To upgrade their abilities, you’ll need to collect elemental fruit. These can be gotten all sorts of ways. Sometimes you get them from pulling up certain types of fruit. Sometimes there are plants that have them growing on them, but most of the time, you’ll get them for doing some sort of subquest for somebody. Either way, they are the big collectible item in the game. If anyone needs help, and you help them, you get a fruit (well, you get a big fruit that counts as 3). Your Wotnot book also keeps track of how many fruits you have gained over time (out of a total of 100), and also how many elemental elixirs you’ve drank. They increase your live meter, and there are 12 of them.
With that set up, how does the game actually play? Well, it’s pretty dang fun at times, but other times, it’s still a platformer, which comes with plenty of frustration. All of the Elemental Warriors are unique and each have their different abilities and most of them are really fun to play as, in their own ways. If that were it, it’d be a total blast to play. But then the problems start to crop up.
First off, as a platformer, much of the “difficulty” comes from frustration. For example, 40 Below has the ability to ride on certain Ice Paths that the others don’t have the ability to ride on. As you would expect, some of these paths are very slippery and it’s easy to fall off. Too easy. The problem is that when you fall off, you start back further than you should have to, so you have to jump down, go swing up into a cave, enter the cave, jump down another ledge, and then get on the ice path. It should start you out of the last cave you exited, which is exactly what it does every other time you die. There are other moments of frustration such as this, but they aren’t THAT bad. But still, it’s one of the reasons I typically stay away from platformers.
The other thing that I really am not a big fan of is the controls themselves. As with most games, the left thumbstick moves and the right thumbstick controls the camera. That’s where most of the similarities with other games ends. Most platforming games have the face buttons set up for your attacks, but not this one. All attacks and moves are done with the triggers. When you are Kameo, you hold RT to Jump, LT to hover or LT+RT to do her flip kick. The face pad is actually what you use to change into an Elemental Warrior. Once you get used to it, it’s not SO bad, but I can’t help but think they could have made it a lot easier if they had done some thinking. For example, the D-pad is used for changing the camera angle. That’s it. I think the D-pad would have made a perfect place to put the Elemental Warriors and use the Face buttons for attacks, which wouldn’t require holding in both triggers for attacks. I honestly think they probably just made the controls this way to be different, but I just don’t like them.
Overall, the game is a lot of fun to play and explore, though it does have its flaws that hurt it, but don’t hurt it too bad.
Once you’ve played through the game, that’s pretty much all to it. Though, admittedly, if you’re big on getting 100% completion, there’s always correcting all the elemental fruit and elixirs. And if you are a REAL stickler, you can go back and replay a lot of the missions you played before and try to get a better score. If you get a super high score (which is pretty hard to do), you’ll unlock even more alternate skins and such for your elemental warriors. Beyond that, once you’ve finished the game, there’s nothing else to really hold your attention.
Really, this game starts out easy, and is always pretty easy. Well, like all platformers (or at least games like Zelda, which this reminds me a lot of), once you learn the patterns to the bosses or the tricks, there really is no difficulty. Literally. Even the end boss is really, really easy. And he has less of a pattern than any other boss. The only difficulty at all comes in the mechanics of the game. Getting decent at the controls is harder than anything. Other than that, there really isn’t anything hard at all. The only way they really TRY to make things harder is by throwing more enemies at you at once, which is a cop out for game companies to do. They simply could have done a lot better here.
Overall, the total gameplay experience is pretty different than any other I can recall. Sure, I felt like it most resembled Zelda in some cases, but that was just a FEELING rather than an actual event that I can say “hey, they did that in Zelda”. I know there have been games where you change shape to solve puzzles, but none that were used quite to this extent. There are plenty of even regular enemies that you have to do one thing on, then switch to another elemental warrior to finish them off. And the way they did that is, for the most part, very well done.
While the game is fun overall, it simply doesn’t have the “ompf” to make it REALLY fun. There are some parts that are really addictive, such as going around and hunting for hidden items, but when you get into a stage and are fighting enemies, it just isn’t as fun. I will give it to them that some of the boss fights are really inventive and pretty fun, but those too simply have too much frustration. When they weren’t frustrating me, they had me hooked. But having to start something over and waste even more time due to poor mechanics is irritating. And irritation leads me to want to quit. I never did though, which is worth something I suppose.
This game holds a very broad appeal. Not only will fans of other Rare platformers like Banjo Kazooie and Donkey Kong Country pick it up, but it also has the benefit of having a wide age appeal. The cutesy characters with their cutesy names (it doesn’t get any cutesier than Thermite, a small termite who carries a small volcano on his back that he shoots magma out of ) reach out to a younger audience, yet it will be fun for adults as well. This could be one of the widest ranging games for appeal on the Xbox 360.
The Xbox Live features on this game seem relatively sparse, from what I can tell. It does keep track of achievements, like all 360 games do. Those are mainly based on saving members of your family and freeing Elemental Warriors, but there are also some that are based on how well you do on a stage. Beyond that, I couldn’t tell if there WERE any Xbox Live features. There is a Co-Op option, and that has the option for Split-Screen, but I saw nothing about Xbox Live there, however after quitting the Co-Op game, it showed a couple of Xbox Live windows. I don’t know if you can play on Xbox Live or not, because I was never able to figure out, and it certainly wasn’t clearly marked. The standard Co-Op could be fun in the right setting, but I had no desire to play the entire game again and try to coordinate with another person. There are also leaderboards so that you can compare your scores with other people on your friends list. Overall, I don’t know if they could have done more, but it still seems rather lacking.
Gameplay and Control: 7.0
Appeal Factor: 8.0
Total Score: 6.0 (Decent)
Short Attention Span Summary
Kameo is a fun game, but ultimately fails due to the times when it’s NOT fun. The game features its fair share of moments that are simply frustrating and annoying, and the problem is that these moments are supposed to be “difficult”, but the sad fact of the matter is that the game is very, very easy. It’s also very linear, and there is little to no satisfaction from completing it. It’s certainly worthy of a rent, but I wouldn’t buy it (unless it was maybe $20). Overall, it is certainly not one of Rare’s best works, especially after how long they’ve been working on it.