Kameo: Elements of Power is like the friend whose past you just have to overlook when you get together. Its development cycle was the classic story of an on-again, off-again relationship in which you’re never quite sure when you’ll see the friend, but you always have high hopes when you finally hook up. Ignore for a moment that Kameo started as a GameCube title. Then moved to the Xbox. Then was bumped to be an Xbox 360 launch game. If you can do that, you’re on your way to having an experience so enjoyable that, when it’s over, you’ll wonder why it had to take so long in coming. And, unfortunately, why it had to end so soon.
Kameo’s heritage on a Nintendo system is hard to miss. Its main character, Kameo, is a fairy. Her adventure is comprised of levels in which she saves loved ones from certain doom. Rather than use weapons, she can morph into 10 different creatures, each with its own skills and attributes. At the same time, though, the game’s move to a next-generation console is also hard to miss. Its brightly colored levels are absolutely huge. The environments are impeccably textured and believably lit. The enemies and objects look as though they’ve been pulled from a pre-rendered sequence, and the soundtrack is worthy of Lord of the Rings-like recognition.
Yet the gameplay in Kameo is what really makes the game so enjoyable. And not surprisingly, it also mixes old-school and new-school techniques. The old-school play is easy to identify, because the game relies heavily on platforming and jumping action. From the first level to the last, players find themselves jumping from platform to platform, climbing walls and balancing precariously on ledges while they avoid falling rocks. What’s new to all this, though, is the complexity in some of those platforming sequences, a reflection of Kameo’s ability to morph into 10 creatures known as elemental warriors.
One of the earliest examples of this complexity comes in the first level, where players knockout enemies using Pummel Weed, a boxing-glove-wearing plant, then jump a chasm by transforming into Major Ruin, an armadillo who can boost across gaps. Then, while Major Ruin is still in mid-air, players switch to Chilla, a yeti whose ice picks are necessary to grab onto and climb the wall at the other side of the valley. Later levels introduce similar think-fast combinations using different characters, but the concept is the same: solve various challenges in each mission by understanding the unique abilities of each character and stringing them together accordingly.
Learning these characters’ abilities is forced upon gamers for at least one level each. You see, the game is comprised of six plot-advancing chapters and about eight levels in which you unlock a new elemental warrior (at least one plot-advancing level has an elemental warrior as a secondary reward). Immediately upon unlocking the new warrior, players must find their way to the next level by making frequent use of that warrior’s abilities, thereby forcing familiarity with what each creature can do. After this mandatory “tutorial,” the game lets players select any elemental warrior they wish, with three creatures able to be assigned to the face buttons at any one time. This makes morphing fast and easy, and after a few levels it becomes second nature.
Ironically, much like gamers are bound to have a few favorite creatures, the level designs indicate that the development team at Rare also had favorites. Pummel Weed, Major Ruin and Chilla are the obvious choices, with objectives and tasks in almost every level relegated to those warriors’ skills. This leaves warriors such as Rubble, Deep Blue and Snare used only on occasion, if at all. Their inclusion is nice, and they definitely have redeeming qualities, but in a way they seem superfluous. Rare probably focused on a few warriors’ abilities to keep the gameplay flowing and to make sure players didn’t spend more time assigning “hotkeys” than they did playing the game. Still, if they were going to include 10 characters, they should have made more levels pander to each warrior’s unique skills. Lord only knows they had enough years to work on it.
Ultimately, though, this is a testament to the only real problem Kameo even has: it never quite manages to satisfy. The abilities of each warrior are generally diverse, but as much as you might enjoy one or the other creature, the levels don’t provide quite enough variety to put the skills to good use. Moreover, and perhaps more troubling, the game has only one level remaining once gamers locate the last elemental warrior, which means gamers don’t have sufficient time to get in a groove. Just as players realize how cool and fun the game can be with all the warriors at their disposal, the end credits roll. Granted, players can go back and replay levels infinitely once the last boss is defeated, but they can only do so with the warriors they had unlocked at that point in the game, never with all 10.
Several reviews have said Kameo is a short game, but it’s really not. Instead, it ends too quickly, and that’s an important distinction to make. All told, Kameo offers about 10 hours of gameplay, maybe more for younger gamers. The tragedy of it all isn’t the less-than-12-hours length, but that Kameo realizes its full gameplay potential for one level, then ends all too soon.
Had players been able to play several more levels with all 10 warriors, or had they been given the option to replay all the earlier levels with all 10 at their disposal, Kameo would feel a bit more fulfilling. It’s such a fun game with all 10 warriors that you hate to see it end. But end it must, with no indication when, or even if, Rare will release additional levels or a sequel. Kameo really is like that long-lost friend with a troubled past. You hate to say goodbye, because you know there’s more fun to be had than this long-awaited visit has included.
- Gameplay: 8.3
- The variety is fantastic, but it doesn’t quite realize its full potential. A few of the warriors also could’ve had more objectives designed for them.
- Graphics: 9.3
- There’s not a single doubt this is a next-generation platformer, judging by these grpahics.
- Sound: 9.3
- You’ll swear the soundtrack was ripped from The Lord of the Rings, and the environmental sounds are top-notch.
- Replay: 8
- The option to play through any level again is a serious plus, as are the co-op play and score-related unlockables.
- Overall: 8.6
- A wonderfully fun romp appropriate for all ages. If only it had a few more levels to experiment with all the elemental warriors.