SONY PSP REVIEW: KAO CHALLENGERS

Kao Challengers is a port of an old platform console game. It wasn't that great to begin with - and it's still not that great. by Jason Ru

April 21, 2006 - Kao is a kangaroo which would seem like the perfect character for a plaformer. He can jump high and cover great distances, he can use his tail for ass-whipping enemies and because he's a boxing kangaroo, he can even throw some powerful punches. But the game is marred by some annoying, automatic camera angles that makes things much more difficult than necessary. The game borrows heavily from many popular platformers which makes you feel as though you've played this game before. It's like a lukewarm imitation of a Crash Bandicoot game.

The story begins as Kao is locked in a cage aboard a pirate ship. His friend the parrot, frees him and in turn, Kao, is obliged to help rescue his other animal friends that are being held captive by an evil hunter and his army of henchmen. Kao's animal friends play a role in the gameplay as well as the story as some of them will assist Kao in certain levels, but more often it's Kao doing the grunt work for many of these fuzzy buddies. Some of the tasks are totally unrelated to the matter of freeing the entrapped, cuddly mammalians. You'll have to locate a lost friend, hack a path through the forest and even help get some badgers out of a garden. It's all just busy work that has little to no bearing on the storyline.

You don't just go ahead and open the cages of the trapped animals, you have to set up an appointment to confront the hunter first. This is accomplished by collecting coins. You have to collect three thousand of them before the final showdown can begin. Along the way you will tangle with the hunter's various henchmen and deal with the requisite platforming schtick such as collapsing platforms, the slipper ice world, breakable barrels and crates, a variation of the mine cart ride, power-ups, and indecisive killer water that will end your life if you touch it - and sometimes not. Koa's move list is pretty decent and he controls very well except when the camera angles interfere. More on that later. Aside from his jumping and punching he's got a good strong butt stomp and can also roll himself into a ball and bowl over enemies. There are also weapons such as the boomerang which he can throw at enemies and use to flip switches and solve some puzzles. Gadgets such as a copter helmet will help Kao fly over some treacherous terrain and there are also vehicles to drive and race with such as a motorboat, snowboard and some Flintstone-inspired hot rod.

Stars are power-ups and they will do things such as increase your jumping ability so that you can leap higher into the air and exert more force when you come crashing down to the ground. Hearts are for health and even though you have unlimited lives they are useful because if you die, and you will many times thanks to the faulty camera, you may wind up at a start point much further back than necessary. There is a flag system for checkpoints which will let you start at the place that you last died but these flags are limited. The gameplay is not difficult by any stretch but the camera will cause you to miscalculate jumps, touch creatures that spell certain death, and accidentally set off booby traps.

For a platformer, this game seems to have everything: combat; mini-games; collectables; power-ups; racing; weapons; gadgets, and tons of platforming variations. The problem is that all of these elements just don't gel. It seems like a lot of them were just slapped on in an attempt to add more variety for the sake of more variety. There just doesn't seem to be much purpose to the things that you have to do. What's my motivation for playing this game? It seems to constantly shift and while that may be fine for the A.D.D. crowd, I expect a little more structure and cohesion. I might be able to overlook this if the game was blast from the get-go but it's hampered in spots by the terrible camera. This camera will automatically choose the angle for you in some situations, often changing perspectives with no warning. Sometimes you'll be taking a leap and the camera will zoom out giving you such a wide view of the environment that it dwarfs your character making you lose sight of it. The camera also drifts along with every move that Kao makes and the instant change in perspectives during jumps and fights can throw you off big time, forcing you to repeat sections of a level over and over and over…

I found the multi-player modes to be quite good. There are Deathmatch variations and races that can accommodate up to four people. With no platforming action the dreaded camera does mess with the controlling of your character. As good as the multi-player modes are, few gamers are going to buy this game for these modes.

It's a colorful and cute looking game but it's not amazing. There are a lot of low-res textures and big, clunky, boxy looking items that could have been more well rounded. The characters are nice but the voiceacting and the dialog seems aimed at very young children. There isn't much music so you won't be missing anything by turning the sound off.

There is no doubt that the PSP needs platformers. For such a well- supported system there are only a handful available. Koa falls under the "better-than-nothing" category if you're a real platform addict. Overall it's not a bad game but it has the potential to be so much better.

Features:

  • Kao Challengers offers a variety of features to keep players interested.
  • The single player story-based adventure mode features 6 different worlds and over 30 unique characters and takes full advantage of console's outstanding performance.
  • Several multiplayer modes are available, based both on death-match and racing stages.
  • There are 20 unique weapons and power-ups in death-match mode
  • Astonishing game-play experience set in 9 different arenas.
  • Racing stages based on motorboats, snowboard and other vehicles offers another great challenge up to 4 PSP players.

By Jason Ru
CCC Freelance Writer

Rating out of 5
KAO Challengers (PSP)
3.3
Graphics
It's bright, cheery and colorful. Some textures are low res and there is a general lack of roundness to the corners of some items.
2.3
Control
The camera is the ultimate enemy in this game. Makes some sections almost unplayable.
2.2
Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
They developers really missed an opportunity to present Kao with a unique and lasting personality. The dialog and voiceacting is childish.
3.2
Play Value
You'll end up replaying many sections of this game, but not by choice. The multi-player modes are really good.
3.1
Overall Rating - Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.
Click For Media
System: PSP
Dev: Tate
Pub: Atari
Released: Apr 2006
Players: 1 - 4
Preview by Jason

Review Rating Legend
1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid
2.0 - 2.4 = Poor
2.5 - 2.9 = Average
3.0 - 3.4 = Fair
3.5 - 3.9 = Good
4.0 - 4.4 = Great
4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy
5.0 = The Best