Kao: Random Gripes and Observations

I’m a bit more than halfway through Kao the Kangaroo now, having encountered, but not beaten, the the third of what I believe to be five bosses. Boss levels in this game all seem to be similar: you’re put in a boxing ring or similar small arena with an enemy. To win, you have to punch that enemy three times, but he’s normally immune to your punches. So you have to figure out a little puzzle. To spoil one of those puzzles: The second boss, who appears after a shipboard-themed level, is a sea-captain with a hook hand. When he takes a swipe at you, you have to jump backward to avoid it, causing his hook to get stuck in the floor briefly, rendering him vulnerable. This trivial once you know how to do it. The only difficulty is that it involves jumping backward, which is a move that I hadn’t ever needed before and didn’t know was possible.

In the last several levels, the world-travel premise has finally started to become visible. There’s a level themed after Greek ruins, another that’s vaguely Arabian in its architecture. And along the way, I’ve had to fight some truly unfortunate cartoon depictions of dark-skinned savages. What the heck, guys? This was released in 2000, not 1932. Is it the wacky, anything-goes cartoon vibe that made you think this would be okay? Judging by the level icons, there’s some Chinese-themed areas coming up, too, and I’m anticipating the worst there. Maybe this is the reason that they decided to re-release Kao 2 and not this one.

While I’m complaining, let me talk about the controls. This game uses tank controls — that is, character-relative controls, like Tomb Raider. And this is fine most of the time, because most of the time, the camera is behind the kangaroo, which makes them equivalent to screen-relative controls. But every once in a while, there’s a section with a fixed camera angle, be it a wide view of running towards the camera from a rolling snowball or a side view of the equivalent of a 2D platformer. And this makes it really hard to control where you’re going. It becomes very easy to run at a slightly wrong angle and off the edge of the platform you’re on. I’ve hit a groove where I’m finding most levels pretty easy, and gain lives about as fast as I lose them, except on the fixed-camera sections, which I fail again and again.

Last post, I talked about hoarding checkpoints. It turns out that I still didn’t understand fully how they work. It turns out that you don’t keep checkpoints between levels, the way you do lives; each level starts you with exactly one checkpoint, and you only get that plus any you pick up on that level. So deploying a checkpoint and then not dying doesn’t “waste” it any more than not deploying it at all before the end of the level. Understanding this is affecting how I play.

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