Just a few notes about Kao the Kangaroo: Round 2

OK, I just said, a mere few hours ago, that I probably wouldn’t post about this. But I’ve played through the first world of Kao 2, and I’m finding it pretty engaging, especially in comparison to its predecessor. It’s different enough from Kao 1 that I could almost (but not quite) believe they’re completely unrelated, that the two games were written by different teams that just picked up the boxing kangaroo theme independently, much like Atari 1Well, Sunsoft really. Atari was the distributor. did back in 1982. Kao 2 has camera-relative analog controls, and supports a different moveset, including rolls and double-jumps. It’s not designed so much around practicing levels until you get good at them: you get infinite lives now, and any power-ups required for advancement respawn if used up. Levels are less random in their theme and contents, and feature enemies that reasonably belong in their environments. There’s characters, and a story, and rather annoying voice acting. And, unlike the first game, it’s all about rescuing other animals. In short, it’s a lot more typical than the first game. Not as wacky and idiosyncratic. Probably less racist, although I haven’t played enough to be completely sure of that. Made in the same mold as the stuff that Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time look back on fondly. It reminds me of how old cartoon characters like Betty Boop that started off as borderline surrealist got remade into safer, more family-friendly versions of themselves in an attempt to compete with Disney. But I can’t definitively say it’s not an improvement.

The voice they chose for the title kangaroo is particularly revealing: he talks like a young boy. Maybe that’s how the developers were thinking of him all along, but it changes my perception of the character enormously. (Headcanon: It’s not the same character. In the first game, you may recall, the player character was really Denis. Kao was presumably off trying to rescue Denis throughout that game, that being his thing, and not having much luck because Denis had already rescued himself. This also explains why Kao doesn’t seem to have a pouch in the second game, although it’s possible the he has one but it’s concealed by the baggy boxing shorts he wears now.)

(Incedentally, now that there’s voice acting, we have a canon pronunciation for “Kao”. It’s neither like “cow”, as I had assumed, nor like “kayo”, as I had read online, but sort of like “kah-oh”.)

One thing I’ve seen that goes against my impression somewhat: In one level, there’s a crate full of dynamite, and sticks with lit fuses come out of it and chase you around, running on little legs. That doesn’t quite seem like a Kao 1 thing, but it definitely seems like something you’d see in an old Max Fleischer cartoon.

1 Well, Sunsoft really. Atari was the distributor.