Roughly five years ago, Kao the Kangaroo first appeared in his own 3D adventure game on Sega's ill-fated Dreamcast console. It wasn't a groundbreaking effort by any stretch, but the easygoing run-and-jump design and charming characters made Kao (pronounced "K-O") a worthwhile pickup for anyone seeking a weekend of lighthearted fun. The same holds true of the boxing marsupial's latest adventure, a budget-priced disc that's available for the GameCube, Xbox, and PlayStation 2 consoles, as well as for Sony's PlayStation Portable handheld.
Although Kao's latest adventure is primarily a straightforward platformer, there are plenty of weapons, vehicles, and objects to futz with along the way.
On consoles, Kao's latest is called Kao the Kangaroo Round 2. On the PSP, it's called Kao Challengers. The difference in the titles primarily reflects the fact that the PSP disc contains multiplayer combat and race modes that aren't found in the console versions of the game, although there are also four additional levels tacked onto its single-player mode as well. Those extras notwithstanding, all four versions of the game offer roughly the same single-player experience, which spans 20-some-odd levels spread throughout six worlds.
As the story goes, the evil hunter Barnaba, whom Kao defeated in the previous game, has returned once again with his henchmen to imprison the planet's animals and suck the Earth dry of its resources. Kao is one of the first critters rounded up by the pirates in Barnaba's service, but, thanks to some timely help from a clumsy parrot, he's also the first one set free. After stepping off the boat, Kao finds himself in the dark docks, which act as a hub for the six worlds that he must visit. Each world follows the typical adventure game layout, consisting of three or four large levels followed by a boss battle at the end.
There's nothing particularly special or noteworthy about how the game works. It's enjoyable, but it sticks fairly close to the typical 3D platforming formula. The main goal in each level is simply to reach the end, which usually involves jumping between numerous platforms, triggering a few switches, and getting rid of any enemies you encounter using Kao's attacks. Kao has a good arsenal of moves. At the touch of a button, you can make him jump, punch, roll, tail-whip, butt-stomp, or toss a boomerang. Furthermore, each of his moves can be upgraded by collecting the stars that are scattered generously throughout each level. Interactive objects, like springboards and overhead rope bridges, also give you something else to do besides running and jumping. Certain portions of the game are tricky, especially the chase sequences where you only have a split second to jump over the obstacles that appear, but, on the whole, the difficulty is rather lenient. Enemies are never too plentiful and the jumps are never too cruel. Should Kao fall into deep water or run out of health, the worst that'll happen is you'll have to restart from the last checkpoint you passed.
Thankfully, there's much more to do in Kao 2 besides jumping and punching. Scripted story scenes happen frequently to set up environmental calamities, chase sequences, and boss battles. Each level usually includes one or two interactive spots, where you can do things like knock down trees or resituate frozen blocks in order to create new walkways. Some levels contain weapons, such as heavy nuts or the flamethrower, which you can use to trigger switches or mow down enemies. Many levels also put Kao behind the controls of a vehicle for a portion of the stage. Early in the game, this involves solo excursions in a pontoon boat or atop a snowboard. Eventually, you'll find yourself racing against enemies, first in a speedboat and later strapped to a rocket. Although Kao's latest adventure doesn't break any new ground, it definitely manages to stay lively.