Game Description: Kameo: Elements of Power is a larger-than-life journey full of intense combat, magnificent exploration, and innovative action. The future of the world depends on Kameo, who must capture, harness, and unleash a wide assortment of monsters to rescue three of her Elemental Ancestors and destroy the Dark Troll King who threatens the planet and its wildlife. Kameo will be granted the power to transform into incredible monsters, but they must be honed to their maximum capacity as she makes her way through a world bursting with strange life and breathtaking sights.
Before I sat down to write this review, I spent some time thinking about Kameo and what I wanted to say about it. I came to one conclusion right off the bat—but it was something I didn't want to say: I didn't want to make a big deal out of just how long this game has been in development. I swear that every review I've read or heard of the game makes some point about how long this game was in coming out, how many platforms it was supposed to be on, and how Rare is now a shadow of its former self. I didn't want to dwell on any of this…but I was being naïve, I think. It's all but impossible to look at Kameo as a finished product and not consider the long and winding road it followed to its Xbox 360 release. I mean, let's face it—this is the Duke Nukem Forever of console games. Anyone who thinks that the long development cycle (and the switch from multiple platforms) didn't impact the final product is kidding themselves.
For proof, one need look no further than at the very first level of the game. It's been widely reported that Rare wanted to open the game one way, while Microsoft felt a more action-oriented beginning was the way to go. The result is that Kameo opens up with an action sequence so dreadful and cumbersome I actually know people who threw down the controller right then and there and never played again.
While there's nothing technically wrong with this opening segment, it does a great job of highlighting everything that's wrong with Kameo. To call this a schizophrenic game doesn't even begin to do it justice—Kameo is a title with an identity crisis so severe it never really gets a handle on what it's supposed to be about. It flits from being an action RPG to a platformer, to a collect-a-thon, to three other types of games, often in the span of several minutes. Its constantly changing identity serves to satisfy no one, as each gaming element comes into play and then is instantly whisked away for another element a few seconds later. The end result was often me feeling like my head was going to explode.
Kameo has the ability to transform into various monsters in her quest to protect the kingdom and surrounding lands. Players will spend roughly the next ten hours trying to regain their powers and save the world. Unfortunately, most of that ten hours is spent doing the same few things over and over again. A typical segment of Kameo proceeds like this: Travel to the area where your power is hidden, open a gate, go in, fight a mini-boss, advance to a second dungeon area, use the newly acquired spirit power to solve some puzzles, beat the boss, and go to the next area where the game asks players to do the same tasks again.
The game makes a failed attempt to hide its linearity with the Badlands—a segment of land that Kameo can travel through on her way to other places. In the Badlands, war is always being waged. Hundreds of combatants crowd the screen (in one of the few moments where people will actually say, "Oh! So this is why I needed a 360!") and Kameo and her trusty steed can partake in the battles…or she can just ride right past them. Kameo can explore this area to find a bunch of mini-games and collectable fruits (which earn "gamer points"), but there's not really much incentive for doing so. Strengthening the elementals isn't a real priority since the game is already easy enough without doing it. As far as gamer points go, I still don't really understand the allure of them, unless they're just for people who want to show off how cool they are for finding everything in a game. I lost the desire to be that guy when I turned eleven, though.
In the game's defense, some of the puzzles are pretty decent (although the in-game help guy will often ruin them for players with his chattering help—turn him off if you'd like to solve the puzzles on your own), and the gameplay is solid (if repetitive). Players expecting to spend a lot of time in Elf form will be disappointed—most of Kameo centers around the players staying in the elemental forms for long stretches of time.
Graphically, the game is a looker Yet as nice as the graphics are, they're outdone by the score. The game's music was the highlight of the Kameo experience for me—trumping gameplay and everything else by a wide margin. Voice acting doesn't fare quite as well as the orchestral scores, but it's not terrible either. Playing the title with a 5.1 surround sound system is quite a treat.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Kameo as a whole is the control scheme. Personally, I found the controls bothersome since they're so awkward in comparison to what gamers are used to. Rather than use the face buttons, almost every sort of action that can be done in the game is mapped to the triggers. This means players will jump, attack, and do other things without ever touching a face button. Face buttons are reserved for the transformation into various elemental forms. The bizarre scheme does become manageable with time, but it still felt wrong to me even at the end of the game. I think Kameo would have been a lot more accessible with a traditional control scheme wherein the face buttons were used for the actions and the triggers for the elementals. As its set up now, it just feels really backwards.
Ultimately, when I think back to my time with Kameo I'm more sad than anything. There was a good game buried in there, and I think Rare would have found it if they hadn't had to develop and redevelop the title for different platforms over a number of years. It's also a shame that a title like Kameo (which looks to me like it was going to be sort of a midlist game from a reputable developer) got so much press that expectations went way beyond what the intended final product could have ever fulfilled anyway. Don't get me wrong—I'm not a Rare fanboy, but I do think some of the flak they've taken in recent years has been unfair. That being said, Kameo is a slightly better than average launch game. It's not a system seller and not a game that people will be looking back at with reverence in ten years—nor is it a complete failure and abomination. All in all, it's just a game that works some of the time but doesn't have enough drive and ambition behind it to vault it to the upper echelon of must play experiences. 360 owners should check it out (it's not like there's a hundred games coming out a month anyway), but go in with reasonable expectations.
Although Kameo: Elements of Power has definitely had a rough ride making it to retail, I'm going to chime in and say that Mike's being a little bit too hard on it. It's clear that the title has some issues, but there's a lot to like and this colorful fantasy adventure serves as a nice respite from the 360's too-serious library. As Mike says, it probably won't be remembered in 10 years, but Kameo occupies a niche that will likely go underrepresented on Microsoft's new machine.
Experienced platformer or character action players can expect a smooth and visually-pleasing experience that never gets very taxing or difficult. The graphics definitely have that early "next-gen" look to them, and the developers included ample advice to prevent anyone from getting stuck. I happened to be in the mood for something colorful and light, so Kameo fit the bill perfectly.
On the other hand, I finished the game in two extended sessions and was disappointed to find that most of my time was spent collecting the different monster forms; after grabbing the final one, it was just a few short segments until the credits rolled. This kind of play structure might not have felt so hollow except that there wasn't much else to the game— earning the creatures shouldn't have been an end unto itself. It would've been nice to have full access to the creatures earlier and then be set loose in levels that required their use in a more proactive or exploratory way.
Although Mike's comments about the repetition in structure are accurate, there are short bursts of excellence that occasionally pop up. Sinking ships from beneath the waves as the tentacled Deep Blue was a favorite segment, and being able to unleash fiery doom with Thermite's lava grenades was a satisfying bit of comeuppance. Simply transforming from creature to creature alone almost justifies the price of admission. However, outside of the occasional thrilling set piece, most of Kameo's menagerie goes underused except for Major Ruin, the game's armadillo clone. For some reason, the developers had a pulsing hard-on for this rolling bastard and felt the need to include his "Look, I'm a ball" ramp-jumping in every single area, whether it made sense or not. Less of this Tony Hawk wannabe next time, please.
There are other rough spots I could talk about like the bad-idea control system that relies too heavily on the triggers, or the way the game's vibration can't be turned off (boo!), but outside of the small annoyances and general lack of content, Kameo: Elements of Power is a decent little outing that could be the beginnings of a great new franchise. Kameo herself is fairly appealing, and the concept of being able to transform into several different types of monsters resonates strongly. After all, hasn't everyone had a similar fantasy at one point or another? With ten different beasts at her command, Kameo's sporting a whole zoo just bursting with gameplay possibilities; Rare just needs to expand on them in a more purposeful way. It may not stack up against Rare's greatest hits, but I enjoyed my time with Kameo and look forward to a stronger sequel.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Animated Blood, Violence
Parents might be put off by the game's Teen rating, but there's really nothing all that troublesome in this game. Yes, there's fighting and some spilled blood, but it's not gory or gratuitous. Once again, the ESRB errs on the side of caution in giving out a rating.
Hardcore Rare fans will probably enjoy this more than the average gamer. It has all the hallmarks of a Rare title from the late N64 era—a bazillion collectables, cute characters (almost too cute) and a whimsical tone. That being said, it's not really any different from about ten other Rare titles. It's pretty, but the gameplay isn't particularly deep or fun.
Casual gamers will like the short length and the fact that Kameo is a game that can be picked up, played for a brief spell, then put down again. The control scheme might be a turn off, though.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing gamers will want to note that there are no subtitles during the cutscenes, nor could I find a way to turn them on in the options menu.