Kameo: Elements Of Power
Graphics 6
Sound 6
Gameplay 6

As far as launch titles go Kameo is quite impressive, but if you were expecting something radically new and different be prepared for disappointment. There are some good ideas packed in the game, but the sloppy controls and repetitive gameplay soon show through the pretty visuals. It’s not a complete disaster, but falls short of what it could have been.

Gameplay: The controls let it down a lot, but if you are a platform fan there’s fun to be had.

Graphics: Very good, but the quality is a bit uneven.

Sound: Epic soundtrack, but the usual mediocre voice acting

Summary 6.0 Above Average
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Summary 0.0 Terrible

Kameo: Elements Of Power

Developer: Rare | Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios | Release Date: 2005 | Genre: Action / Adventure / Platformer | Website: Official Website | Purchase: Amazon

Usually launch titles are little more than glorified tech demos slapped together in order to draw in the drooling masses and sell them on the new technology.  Kameo however, has a bit more history behind it.  Up until their acquisition by Microsoft, Rare was set to release the game on Nintendo hardware.  Focus quickly shifted to making it an Xbox title, but once again the game slipped off the radar, only to emerge as an Xbox 360 showcase.  The big question, of course is, was it worth the wait or was Microsoft a bit too quick when shelling out all the cash on Rare.

If you like Fairy tales, then you might appreciate the back-story of Kameo, but everyone else is just going to groan at how clichéd it is.  After a spot of sibling rivalry, triggered by Kameo receiving the fabled “Watnot” book and elemental powers that goes with it.  Her older sister, Kalus, leaves in a bit of a huff.  To show her displeasure, Kalus not only kidnaps and tortures members of the royal family, but also frees the arch nemesis of the elves, the troll king, to boot.  This triggers a full-scale troll invasion, and since Kameo appears to be the only Elf capable of transforming into fearsome elemental warriors, she sets out to stop her sister and save the enchanted kingdom.

Upon first booting up Kameo, it is hard not to be slightly overwhelmed.  You are thrown into the thick of things as Kameo storms the troll king’s castle.  New moves and concepts are introduced every five seconds, and my initial impression was that I somehow loaded a savegame near the end of the quest.  When the dust finally settles, Kameo loses all her elemental warriors to the clutches of Shadow Trolls and finds herself in a tranquil hub area.  The transition is quite jarring, even more so when you suddenly start receiving tutorials on how to look up and down.  It would appear that the opening segment was just tacked on to wow the adrenaline junkies, and show off the visuals, as the pace slows down considerably afterwards.  Nothing wrong with this approach, but it does cause a lot of frustration for new players expecting to ease into the game.

From your hub area in the Enchanted Kingdom, you then venture out into the Badlands where a full-scale war of Lord of The Rings proportions takes place between between Elves and Trolls.  While you are sometimes called upon to participate in the defense of shrines, your primary goal is to track down the Shadow Trolls and reclaim the elemental warriors.  In true platform tradition, these give you new forms and powers that allow access to previously inaccessible areas.  The problem is, although the game initially seems like it features open world gameplay, it is actually extremely linear.  You travel across the badlands until you reach the area clearly marked on your map.  Each of these areas conforms to the usual water, woods, fire and ice themes that the genre favors and after some puzzle solving, you get your encounter with a Shadow Troll.  These encounters play out almost exactly the same and add to the feeling of a deja vu by all having the same unskippable intro-cutscene.  Once the Shadow Troll is down and a new form obtained, you use your newfound powers to solve a few more puzzles, duff up some enemies and finally face a boss to free a family member.  After that, it is just rinse and repeat until the credits roll.

Kameo herself is quite frail, and pretty useless in combat, which makes the elemental warriors the real stars of the show.  I don’t know if Microsoft requested that these guys be made less cute, but the end result is that some of them look quite demented.  Pummel Weed, which is a boxing glove wielding plant, looks particularly disturbing.  Kameo is still visible inside the warriors, which just further adds to the creepiness.  There is a total of ten warriors, but I used some way more than others.  In fact, if certain puzzles didn’t require the use of specific warriors, I would probably have never used them.  Collecting special fruit allows you to unlock new moves for your warriors, but the game is simple enough, you won’t really require anything special to proceed.  About the only real challenges come from the boss battles, as most of my deaths in the game was a courtesy of the sloppy controls.  The game automatically saves at certain checkpoints, and these are frequent enough to avoid needless repetition.  The difficulty is lowered even further by the “Watnot” book, which constantly badgers you to look at it so that it can give you the solution to whatever puzzle you are busy with.  This thing seriously won’t shut up until you have looked at it and is seriously annoying, not to mention patronizing.

At least the visuals are up to scratch, and really deliver on the promise of being “next generation.”  The environments are lush and detailed, making them a pleasure on the eyes.  The Enchanted Kingdom in particular is jam-packed with color.  The Badlands is a bit drabber, but makes up for it with the sheer scale of the battle going on around you.  The character designs are nice, albeit a bit clichéd and the cut-scenes using the game engine isn’t particularly impressive.  Sadly, the quality of the initial areas isn’t carried all the way through, and by the time you hit the themed levels, the shine as faded considerably.  This isn’t helped one bit by the wonky camera that is never where you want it to be.  The orchestral soundtrack is outstanding, and features some suitably epic tunes.  The slightly clichéd voice acting sours a bit, but overall the audio is impressive.  The biggest problem with the game is the controls.  Having your attacks mapped to the shoulder buttons is awkward enough, but can be mastered with practice.  Having all the characters feel like they are skating around on the rollerblades is another matter.  While there is fortunately no precision jumping required, simply controlling the elemental warriors is a chore, and the less said about rolling around as “major ruin” the better.

Kameo elements of Power is a lot shorter than what it initially appears to be, and even the inclusion of some side quests and mini games doesn’t prolong it by much. There’s a lot of achievements to aim for, but since a lot of them add zero to your gamerscore, only the dedicated will try them all.  The different elemental warriors sound like a good idea, but are once again littered with missed opportunities.  Since you can switch between them on the fly, it would have been nice to see more combo opportunities that what is present.  Apart from a few forced segments, this aspect of the game is almost completely overlooked.  The on and offline co-op feature is a nice addition, but restricted to certain areas only, and doesn’t feel very polished.

In the 13 hours I spent playing the game to its conclusion, I definitely had fun, but some bad apples like the controls and level designs spoiled the bunch.  The attempt at humor was also a little sad, but mostly confined to the corny character names and a few puns.  A few sections where Kameo could shine would also have helped to make her a more likeable character.  Flying or more accurately “hovering” around with her is fun, but apart from the tedious shadow troll battles, she is fairly useless.  Still, as far as launch titles go, Kameo has a bit more depth than most, and will provide a few thrills during your adventure.  As long as you are not expecting a gripping storyline and brand new play mechanics, that is.

*Review originally published January 2006.

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