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Kao Challengers

Reviewed: April 2006 by Corbie Dillard

Publisher: Atari
Developer: Tate Interactive
Release Date: March, 2006
ESRB Rating: “E” for Everyone
Genre: Platform/Adventure
Price: $19.99

Someone once said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that’s true, then Kao Challengers is one of the most flattering games you’ll likely find. It borrows from just about every popular platformer title created over the past 15 years. From the “running into the screen from a wild animal” levels of the Crash Bandicoot titles, to the Raymanesque presentation, Kao certainly isn’t going to win any awards for originality. That being said, Kao Challengers does come out for a system that’s currently starving for quality platformer titles, and although the game does feel a little familiar at times, Kao’s control is refined and tight enough to make it very playable and enjoyable for those who like their difficulty toned down a bit. Kao Challengers may not revolutionize the platformer genre, but what it does do is give platformer fans something to sink their teeth into and reiterates the age-old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Story

The evil hunter Barnaba is capturing up all of Kao’s animal friends and selling them to the highest bidder. With the help of your friendly Parrot, you’ll travel around the many areas of Kao’s world through the Dark Docks, rescuing the captured animals along the way. As you rescue these animals, they’ll aid you in your quest to put a stop to Barnaba and his evil plan to capture and sell every last one of the animals.

Gameplay

Chances are, if you’ve been playing platformers for any length of time at all, you’re going to know what to expect from Kao Challengers. It features the basic run, jump, throw a projectile, and pilot a number of whimsical vehicles through danger-infested levels type of gameplay that we’ve all grown to love over the years. You begin the game with the basic set of moves, which include a double jump, a spin attack, a ground pound, and Kao’s trademark K.O. punches. As you collect stars found throughout the many levels of the game, you’re basic moves will begin to upgrade and become even more powerful. For instance your double jump will eventually become a double jump with the ability to glide longer distances and your spin move and ground pound will become more devastating and have a wider range of attack. So while it may seem easier to fly through the many levels, it pays to collect items, such as the stars in this game. In certain levels you’ll also come into contact with context sensitive items, such as the crystals that you can pick up and throw at switches and hanging objects that will allow you to continue through certain puzzle-style elements in these levels. It may not seem like much, but for anyone that’s played the Rayman series, you’ll know what to expect in Kao Challengers. There’s also the tried-and-true “vehicle” levels in the game in which you’ll get to pilot a vehicle through several levels in the game. Everything from motorboats to mine cars make an appearance and add yet another proven gameplay element to the mix. Needless to say, there’s no lack of things to do in this game as it borrows from just about every successful platformer around.

The one area that can make or break a platformer is the play control. Flashy visuals and Dolby Surround sound are all nice and everything, but if you want to spoil a platformer in a hurry, throw in some loose or unresponsive play control and it’s going to come up garbage every time. Thankfully the developers of Kao Challengers have pulled the play control in this game together quite nicely. In fact, it’s bordering on terrific. All of Kao’s many moves are easily pulled off at any given time and even his movements on some of the very tricky portions of the game are well timed and spot on responsive. The “running into the screen” levels are a little on the fast side, and don’t give you a lot of time to respond, but this adds to the challenge a bit and makes you have to memorize these sections of the game in order to pass them. As for the “vehicle” levels, the developers did a nice job of mixing up the gameplay elements here to give these levels a slightly different and unique feel changes the pace of the gameplay. All in all most people are going to be surprised at just how well this game controls. It may not be the most original game in the world, but it is one solid platformer experience.

Multiplayer

Using the PSP’s wireless adhoc mode, players can take part in several of Kao Challenger’s multiplayer games. “Death Match” allows two or more players to take part in an all-out fight to the death using various weapons that players can purchase by collecting coins throughout the matches. The winner is the player with the most points after the time limit is reached or who reaches the set number of points for the match first. “Chicken Master” allows one player to wear the chicken head while all of the remaining players try to kill the chicken. Points are awarded for the player who takes out the chicken or to the player wearing the chicken hat that can stay alive for one round of the clock. “Racing Game” allows multiple players to take part in one of the many different vehicle racing levels found in game. The player that wins the race wins the game. If you thought the main game was fun, wait until you get together with your friends and play through some of these multiplayer games. They’re almost as much fun as the main adventure and add hours of extra fun to the game.

Graphics

What might surprise many PSP owners is the fact that Kao Challengers looks almost just as good visually as the Kao the Kangaroo Round 2 games found on the console systems. Not only is it incredibly sharp and colorful, the game also shows a surprising amount of detail for a portable rendition of the game. It’s worth mentioning that some areas of the game do appear a bit dark, so it’s recommended that you turn up the PSP brightness to medium or high when playing this game, much the same as is needed with the Daxter game at times. Even with the brisk pace of the vehicle levels, the game’s frame rate manages to stay at a fairly consistent pace, yet another testament to the polygon power of the PSP system. It’s quite obvious that the transition from the console version to the PSP game was obviously a smooth one and anyone that’s played the console versions of the game is sure to be impressed with what the developers were able to cram into the PSP version. Easily one of the best-looking PSP games to date.

Sound

The music and sound effects in Kao Challengers are probably it’s one downside. The music’s not what you’d call bad, it’s just nothing you haven’t heard a hundred times over in many of the previous platformer adventures. The music just doesn’t do the game’s visual personality justice, but at least it slightly covers up the game’s below-average voice acting. That’s not to say that the sound quality of the voiceovers is horrendous, it just sounds like the developers handed out scripts to anyone passing by on the street and had them just flat out read from the script into a microphone. Most of the voice acting just isn’t the slightest bit emotive or believable. Thankfully, all of the dialogue is written out in sub-titles on the screen so you can just as easily read what you need to know instead of sitting through session after session of the voices in the game. You may find it cute at first, but after an hour or so of it, you’ll be longing for the days before video games got lengthy voiceovers. Not going so far as to call it a disaster, but it would have been nice to have had a soundtrack and voice work to compliment the wonderful control and visuals of the game.

 

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Conclusion

With a retail price of $19.99, you wouldn’t expect much for Kao Challengers if you didn’t know better. But hidden beneath that budget price tag is a hidden platformer gem. Think of Rayman 2 with a little Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon thrown into the mix. The game is a little on the short side, but the enticements to go back and collect all of the items in each level give the game a good amount of replay value that will keep fans of the game coming back to perfect it. If you don’t mind a game that’s basically a collection of some of the better components of platformer titles from years past, then you’re in for a real treat with Kao Challengers. It’s not quite as polished as a game like Daxter, but pound for pound, in the gameplay department, it’s almost just as fun.

Playing Hints and Tips

- Don’t forget to save after you finish each level, as the game doesn’t have an auto-save feature. You wouldn’t want to lose that perfected level, now would you?

- Collect as many of the stars in each level as you can find as these will power up your attacks and weapons and make playing some of the later levels much easier.

- The running levels fly by at a brisk pace, but make it a point to memorize as much of the terrain as you can in order to pass through them successfully while grabbing all of the coins in these levels.

- The game hides some stars, coins, and crystals in very tricky hiding places so always be on the lookout for something out of the ordinary when searching out these hard-to-find items.

- Did we mention that you should save your game often? As in burn this practice into your mind at the end of each level no matter what. Got it!

Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

Kao Challengers is on par with many console platformers, and goes a long way in showing off just how powerful the PSP is, especially with this genre of game. Everything in the game has a brilliant and extremely colorful look to it that really makes the game jump off of the PSP’s screen. The steady frame-rate is just icing on the cake.

Sound

The only disappointing aspect of the game, but one that thankfully doesn’t seem to drag this otherwise solid gaming package down with it. If you want to do yourself a favor, turn down the volume and crank up some of those tunes on your MP3 player. Decent, but could have been a lot better.

Fun Meter

The main adventure in the game is well-constructed, well executed, and just plain fun. Kao Challengers is the type of game that will remind fans why they like platformers in the first place. Then to top things off, the game also sports an extremely playable and fun set of multiplayer games. The game may prove to be a tad too easy for more advanced gamers, but even with its’ toned-down difficulty, it’s still a lot of fun, and at under $20, you can’t beat the price.

Addictivity

The main game shouldn’t take veteran platformers long to run through, but it’s the item collecting that makes the game so much fun to play through again. Not only are you rewarded with more powerful attacks for collecting stars, you also have to collect at least 3000 in coins in order to gain access to the last levels in the game. This makes for a decent amount of replay value when coupled with the enjoyable multiplayer games.

Total Score= 3.875 Dragons, 77.5%



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