Platform: Xbox 360
Publisher: Microsoft Game Studios
Review Date: 12/24/09
I wanted to like this game. I really did. But it's just one frustrating disappointment after another. Kameo is an elf princess whose family has been kidnapped and whose kingdom is under attack by Thorn, the Troll King. In order to defeat Thorn, she must find the twelve elemental warriors and master their powers. Unfortunately, they're scattered throughout the land and guarded by a host of bad critters. Once Kameo has collected an elemental warrior, she can transform into it and use its powers to solve puzzles and fight enemies. Each warrior has a unique skill set, and all of them are needed to advance through the game. That right there adds a huge level of complexity to the game, as you have at least fifty commands to keep track of. The constant character schizophrenia is also mentally taxing, because you can never get comfortable with any of the characters since you're swapping between them all the time.
Kameo started out as a GameCube game for Nintendo, but eventually turned into an Xbox 360 launch title after Microsoft bought Rare. It was a technical showcase and a graphical gem for the new console, but I thought that Rare's previous "Starfox Adventures" was a better looking and better playing game. From a marketing standpoint, the game is a lie because it blatantly touts Kameo as the main character. While this is true from a story viewpoint, you don't actually get to play her in the game very much and she's pretty weak on her own. As a big fan of female action games, I found this to be extremely disappointing. It's like picking up a movie that has a picture of a pretty girl on the cover, only to find out that she's not actually in the movie. (a trick that I've fallen victim to WAY more often than I'd care to admit)
Presentation wise, the game is very pretty and colorful. The character design is cute and zany as you would expect from Rare, except that Kameo herself isn't very attractive. As an Xbox game, either Microsoft or Rare felt the need to boost the sex appeal of the character to target an older demographic, but it just doesn't work. Similar to "Starfox Adventures," the voice talent suffers from having bad American accents. While the voice acting is very good, the delivery is just strange enough to be disconcerting. In particular, I found the pronunciation of "troll" as "trawl" to be very grating. Especially when there are lots of trolls in the game. By far the best aspect of the game is its rich and epic John Williams inspired soundtrack. The music is wonderful, but its glaring similarities to "Star Wars" and "Harry Potter" can be a bit unsettling.
The game's biggest failure is that it's simply no fun to play. When the game starts, you're thrown into a full scale assault against Thorn's castle without a clue about what to do. This tutorial mission serves to familiarize you with combat fundamentals, but it's way too much to grasp all at once. I nearly put the game away after thirty minutes of this nonsense, but the reviews I read encouraged me to press on. After this mission, Kameo is stripped of her power and then spends the next hour going through a more traditional tutorial mission that teaches you how to move, look around, and interact with things. Very odd. It's like they tacked on the other mission as a way to throw you right into the action, and give you a taste of what the game is going to be like after you play it for another ten hours. After you get through the first couple hours of gameplay, you can actually start doing stuff, like exploring the land, talking to the locals, collecting items, and tracking down the elemental warriors. This starts out as a fun exercise, but then becomes a chore, and finally becomes a frustration. This, of course, brings us to my most common complaint: combat difficulty.
Game critics universally complained that "Kameo" was far too easy, but I didn't find that to be the case. It's true that it's very difficult to die, and that there seems to be an overabundance of health items around to keep you healthy. It's also true that the overly eager and ultimately annoying hint system is always dropping clues so that you don't have to think about what you need to do next. However, the actual act of combat is extremely difficult. Since the game is played from a third person perspective with a chase camera, the only way to engage an enemy is to line yourself up and run straight towards them. There is no aiming mechanism, no targeting functionality, and no ability to strafe or back up, which leaves you completely vulnerable when you're trying to attack. Any defensive action causes you to lose sight of your opponent since you have to turn away from them to dodge or escape, which leaves you blind and vulnerable. The boss battles are the absolute worst, and after spending an hour on the second major boss, I gave up on the game altogether. As with most boss encounters, they have an attack pattern that you have to recognize and exploit. Unfortunately, the frequency of the attack pattern is faster than Kameo's ability to set up a counter attack, which results in a frustrating cycle of getting beaten down before you can fight back. Imagine a scenario where in order to attack the bad guy you have to stack five boxes on top of each other, and then the bad guy knocks your boxes over just as you're trying to place the last one. Then imagine doing this twenty times before you finally end up dying. And if you're lucky enough to stack the boxes in time, you still have to run straight at the bad guy in order to attack him, and he'll probably knock you down in the process. Very, very irritating.
Perhaps it's time for me to give up playing video games for good. It's very likely that younger players with quicker reflexes and higher precision can get through this game with ease, but for a 40-something year old guy, it's impossible. A friend of mine referred to this as "biological lag," which is a brilliant observation. As I get older, I've definitely noticed that my mind and body have slowed down, whereas the world seems to have sped up. As the gaming generation gets older, how are developers going to address these issues? Nintendo's answer was the Wii, as well as a focus on casual gaming, but that's not the complete answer. It still doesn't allow us old guys to experience the cool games, like the ones we used to play in our younger years. I suppose athletes suffer the same problems, and at some point we just have to give up on those pastimes that used to bring us joy, simply because we're physically too old to participate in them anymore. How fucking depressing...