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Before getting into the main course, it should be noted that my thoughts on Kao the Kangaroo are not perfectly aligned with Christian’s VGChartz review; that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s tighter overlap between us for this modest DLC. Tate Multimedia’s revival of a C-tiered (perhaps even D-tiered) platformer mascot made sense in today’s environment, but the developer didn’t train Kao hard enough to stay on his paws for 12 full rounds. But given his pleasant character and heart, I can understand giving Kao another shot. Sadly, the end result for the confusingly-named Oh! Well expansion is a half-hop forward and two hops back.
Rather than a new themed biome, like a snowy or tropical locale in the base game, this new content is limited to the Eternal Wells: mystical portals to a different dimension with more coins and outfits to collect upon completion. It’s the equivalent of getting five new Eternal-themed challenge rooms that’ll mix-n-match different gameplay focuses, like combat or precision platforming.
Finding them is already done for you after plopping down $7 (retail): the main hub-world, Hoppaloo Island, houses a giant purple portal that enables you to select the DLC wells in any order. Regardless of which you choose, they keep to a certain aesthetic. Each level is a collection of floating platforms in a violet-hued “other” dimension and the enemies are essentially sinister, corporeal re-skins of those in Kao’s regular setting. It’s all incredibly comfortable for anyone who dove into the original’s wells.
Therein lies the issue: familiarity. Considering how often they were – rightly – treated as side content by gluing in concepts and hazards from the main world, part of me anticipated this extra time would’ve afforded Tate something more… experimental within the context of Kao’s typical 3D platformer template. There’s not much harm in sprinkling challenges like sliding down an ice ramp whilst avoiding falling stalactites, or deftly hopping over rolling spike traps; where it becomes an issue is when that’s often the insipid main course.
The same can be said about the combat as well. The original’s action vocabulary of double-jumps, punches, rolls, etc. has largely remained the same. When you’re locked into the gladiatorial arenas, the cycle of dodging various melee & ranged attacks has a similar rhythm until moving onto the next phase. But since there’s less emphasis on elemental extras within Kao’s gloves, there’s not even any extra visual pizzazz to his moveset. If you’ve beaten the game, you’ve slapped these enemies a hundred times over by now.
Beyond visual flair, Oh! Well feels like a lackluster production overall. Dousing purple mist across each backdrop was already expected, but I still figured some kind – any kind – of new artistic flavor would be sprinkled in too; sadly, it’s still a collection of stuff from the main game. Even worse than the original, these levels feel more stale thanks to near-absent sound design. I scarcely recall much in the way of background music or any canned commentary from Kao. You’re most often platforming or fighting in a muted void, but it’s less about building an ominous atmosphere and more like Tate needing to allocate resources elsewhere to make the release date.
The one glimmering positive would be Oh! Well’s final level. It’s a simple wrinkle: use the light emanating from your fire elemental gloves to see farther in any direction. Transitioning from viewing practically the entire map in every other well to such a limited field of view was an inspired touch and led to the one time I was genuinely worried about the game over screen. The traps are more surprising, there’s some genuine atmosphere, and the paucity of health pickups demands greater focus. Landing one of every five punches doesn’t sound that great in boxing terms, but it deserves some credit nonetheless.
Outside of collecting more coins, this DLC offers some Halloween-inspired costumes. Completing each well nets you another goofy head/body set, be it swanky tuxedo with a pumpkin hat or morphing into “FrankenKao.” Compared to the drip-feed of Kao’s other free costume packs, they’re more fun and creative. They’re still just cosmetic extras at the end of the day, but I’m desperately scraping for any superlatives.
I’m not actively trying to denigrate this quasi-expansion, but it’s hard to be easygoing when some money is on the line. While their respective situations are different, when you have something like GreedFall: The de Vespe Conspiracy costing the same amount… it’s tough not to question what Tate was thinking. It’s even more obvious when considering I squeezed roughly 45 minutes of total playtime out of it. Tie this in with its lackluster presentation and it’s easy to see why it earns a stern critique.
While I was ultimately tepid and partially disappointed with Kao the Kangaroo, I’m just left utterly bewildered with Oh! Well by comparison. Even the modest defenses of the original’s safe-but-entertaining structure can’t fly with Oh! Well’s mostly-banal offerings. With the exception of one level, the expansion’s design and production seem so slapdash and stale. There’s still a sliver of me that’s interested to see where Kao goes from here – if he does at all – but Tate Multimedia should see this and take note: your fighter’s not in good form if he’s rarely landing any punches.
Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee’s obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.
This review is based on a digital copy of Kao the Kangaroo – Oh! Well for the XS, provided by the publisher.