Xbox 360 Review: Kameo

In development since the early days of the Nintendo 64, Kameo is one of those games you would never be surprised to see cancelled. After numerous incarnations and consoles, it's here on the Xbox 360. It's hard to imagine what the limited hardware of the N64 would have done to this fantastical, gorgeous, and jaw droppingly beautiful world. It's nice to know we'll never need to know.

Kameo's strength is not in its graphics. Those are of course the highlight for the marketing material, and it's only natural to think you're playing a CGI cut scene during a few boss encounters. Getting there is not easy, and the challenges before those battles are what make this Xbox 360 exclusive a near classic.

Taking on numerous forms, Kameo is a fairy that changes to address whatever situation may arise. All four face buttons are used to morph into another creature, and it's an absolute necessity to learn the advantages of each. With 10 sometimes adorable, sometimes vicious creatures, rarely does Kameo drag on from repetitiveness.

With intense action, it's easy to dismiss the game as a standard platform title, mixed in with some fighting. In all actuality, it's a puzzle game fleshed out into something that resembles a platforming game. It doesn't take long before Kameo begins to lock players inside crammed quarters, and you need to think your way out. Brute force is rarely an option. Likely because of the "extended" development period, there are usually multiple solutions to completing a section too.

While this style of gameplay is welcome, it's hard not to be frustrated. Numerous moments in the game bring the player close to launching that $50 wireless controller for their $400 game console across the room into that $1000 HDTV, and that's an anger management problem few gamers can afford. The fault lies almost entirely with the off-putting camera and shaky physics. For puzzles that require the player to push an enemy off a ramp and into a pit for instance, you'll spend more time lining up a shot you think is perfect only to watch the adversary roll right back down at rest next to your original position.

It's natural to keep going though. Kameo is too good to make skipping a single moment of it acceptable. When it works, this is a brilliant video game, even when your fingers are sore from using the shoulder buttons exclusively to attack. Each world is a new experience, each boss bringing back memories of the 16-bit eras best. You'll never forget your journey into Kameo's water level, a stage so stunningly gorgeous, you'll wish you could set it as a screen saver.

If replay value is a concern, play through the shortened co-operative multi-player. There's a strong argument that this mode, even though it's around three hours, is better than single player. Levels have been shortened, pointless tasks have been eliminated, and working as a team to defeat the roughest sections is far more entertaining than doing it yourself (though you'll now have $100 worth of wireless controllers aimed at that HDTV). Achievements are handed out for each level completed too, adding to the bonus.

It would be criminal to dismiss the efforts of Steve Burke for Kameo's success too. His epic, flowing, and perfect soundtrack accompaniment is easily one of the best original game soundtracks this year. It sounds almost too large and dramatic for a game that at first glance is for kids (it's not). Once sucked inside, you're involved because of this extra piece to Kameo's already incredible exterior.

It's understandable to overlook this one given the familiar franchises and seemingly more adult oriented games on the console. Even if the cover art doesn't convey it, Kameo fits right into the 360's launch. Experienced gamers have to feel for those parents who buy this for their children (they'll be in tears long before level one is over), but those who have the skills to pull it off will find almost every aspect of this Rare masterpiece worthwhile.

(**** out of *****)

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