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ups: Beautiful graphics, gameplay keeps interesting over time.
downs: Co-op is a let-down, battles are less epic than you'd expect.

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Kameo: Elements of Power Review
game: Kameo: Elements of Power
four star
posted by: Aaron Stanton
publisher: Microsoft
developer: Rare
ESRB rating: T (Teen)
date posted: 06:50 PM Wed Jan 11th, 2006
last revision: 07:37 PM Wed Jan 11th, 2006

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Click to read.Kameo has long been seen as Microsoft\'s effort to counter-act the popularity of Zelda on the GameCube. Set in a world of magic, fairies, and trolls, comparisons between Kameo and Nintendo\'s killer-app franchise can hardly be ignored.

But developer Rare knows better than to just attempt to offer Zelda-like settings and cloned gameplay. Born on the GameCube, then transferred to the Xbox and eventually the Xbox 360, Kameo has grown more complex with every transition. The final product is distinct enough in both gameplay and style to safely leave most Zelda comparisons behind.

For better or worse, Kameo takes the fantasy setting and drives it in a new direction with beautiful and complex graphics, large scale battles, and a cast of characters worthy of the Rare reputation.

The Characters of Kameo:

Much like Zelda and Metroid, Kameo is a game of exploration and re-exploration. Clearing a level with one character hardly means you\'ll never return; as you explore, you\'ll often be able to see areas you can\'t yet reach.

Just as Metroid won\'t let you open the right doors without the right weapons, Kameo\'s primary gameplay element is finding new forms for clearing obstacles.

It\'s a gameplay dynamic that works surprisingly well, allowing Kameo to offer a wide range of new game elements progressively over the course of the game. You\'ll box in combat as a giant plant, explore the aquatic as a squid-like creature, and roll down ramps like an electronic version of chutes and ladders. The focus on finding new characters, and then using their abilities to access new areas and defeat enemies, is Kameo\'s primary distinction from other games.

At the end of the game, Kameo boasts 10 characters, each with their own personality and skills. This is where one of the remaining comparisons to Zelda re-appears. Where in Zelda you travel from place to place finding new items that allow you to do new things, Kameo has you reacquiring spirits, which allow you to do the same. Many of the skills inherent in the characters in Kameo are duplicated in Zelda through its items. For example, the Flex character can use its stretchy arms to pull you across chasms, much like the hook shot in Zelda.

40-Below lets you breath icy breath onto your enemies, freezing them much like the Ice Wand in a Link to the Past.

Yet the majority of special skills and abilities are relatively unique to Kameo, and become more-so as you acquire flower points and upgrade your abilities. What starts off as a mild ability to throw rocks as Rubble turns into a machine gun barrage of bullets as you spend points to make your abilities more powerful. Between the variety of characters and their multitude of abilities, you\'ll find a lot more variety here than is offered by the items found in Link\'s side-pouch, even if Kameo\'s horse just comes across as a much angrier version of Epona.

My personal favorite is Thermite, a tiny ant that carries a huge molton cannon on his back.

Big Battles and Enemy A.I.:

When we met with members of the Kameo development team at E3 2005, they were excited about the size of their battles. On the GameCube and Xbox, they had to struggle to fit enough enemies onto the screen at once; the systems simply were not powerful enough to allow a great deal of independently running A.I.s on the screen together. When they transferred to the Xbox 360, many of those limitations went away. They were happy to tell us that they had battles that encompassed over 3000 individual A.I.s at a time.

Unfortunately, after the initial encounters, the numbers hardly show.

There are no doubt tons of enemies, but their independent intelligence becomes lost when they all cheer in a crowd using the exact same animations. Your first impression of the armies is not of 3000 characters each with their own mind, but instead thousands of exact duplicates, all following the same formula. When they actually start fighting each other, the behave differently, but by then you\'re moving too fast to really notice.

As you charge through them on horseback, it\'s fun, but feels fairly inconsequential, as you\'re normally asked to simply ride through the enemies while going from point A to point B. Feel free to stop and beat people up if you like, but feel equally free to ignore them completely. The result is pretty much the same.

The inconsequentially of these sequences is driven home when you realize that the co-op levels exclude them entirely.

While the massive battles you see in the screenshots are certainly impressive, don\'t expect them to represent the entire game; the majority of your time will be spent in much smaller, themed levels that will have you entering, solving a problem, and then returning to a hub to move onto the next.

As a consequence, Kameo never really achieves the tremendous sense of freedom you\'d expect from the beautiful screenshots of open areas and countryside.


Kameo is the first game I\'ve ever played where I actually think that the co-op mode is less fun than single player. Traditionally there\'s nothing I like better than sitting down with a friend to take on some game or another, but Kameo shines better when played alone. The co-op mode strips the story elements from the game, letting you play only the individual levels one at a time.

If you were to equate this to Zelda, again, it would be like having a co-op ability to play the dungeons, but not the overworld. The co-op does not feel like a full version of the game, therefore, and is only partially representative of what Kameo can offer.

Factor in the decision to split the screen vertically instead of horizontally (a good decision for wide-screen TVs, but a poor one for traditional 4:3 TVs), and the co-op experience becomes difficult to control and barely worth it.

The final kicker, though, is that you can only play levels cooperatively if you\'ve reached them in single player.

So if you\'re expecting to be able to sit down with a friend and play from start to finish during a rental, think again. It\'s much more like playing single matches than the overarching storyline, and it comes across as shallow. It\'s fun for a bit, but it\'s hardly going to hold you through the entire game; you\'ll put it down in favor of something else after a while.

Pretty Pictures:

Kameo is arguably one of the best looking games available for the Xbox 360 at launch. It doesn\'t shoot for the photo-realistic in the way of Project Gotham and NBA 2k6, but it presents a number of highly detailed and fantastically diverse environments. The bright colors and artistic design actually remind me a bit of Azurik on the Xbox, which was not a particularly well received game, but earned points for being creative.

In terms of launch titles, Kameo\'s use of particle effects, lighting, and massed A.I. make it a standout, and it\'s clear to see why Microsoft hyped the title so much during the launch; it simply looks wonderful.

The Unexpected Vote of Approval:

When I first put Kameo: Elements of Power into the Xbox 360, I wasn\'t amazed by it. I thought that, much like Rare\'s recent releases, Kameo would be interesting but not great. I still personally hold this opinion. Yet something odd happened. A friend of mine came over that almost never plays video games. He started playing while I was making lunch one day. Shortly after, another friend had joined him.

Those two traded the controller back and forth for the course of maybe three days straight. They never played the co-op missions, only swapped players between levels. Then they beat the game. Then they started going back to unlock different secrets. They maxed out their gold. They unlocked character skins.

This game, which I had found less then overwhelming, took two casual gamers and drug them from start to finish without letting either come up for air in a way that you only occasionally see, now days.

In my personal opinion, that\'s a stronger recommendation than anything I can say positive or negative about Kameo.

My Final Thoughts:

Kameo is a modern Rare game to its core. It\'s well built, designed around fantastic settings and quirky characters. It\'s not stellar, but it\'s solid. Kameo\'s graphics are an early tribute to the power of the Xbox 360, and the game dynamics are enticing over time, but you won\'t find the lasting, timeless experience that you expect from truly great games.

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