So, what does an investment of $375 million buy you these days? In the case of Microsoft it bought Rare, a development studio with a lineage to match the very best in the videogame industry. Conker, Banjo, Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, all games with a fearsome reputation and proven track record on previous hardware. Looking back now, its hard to believe that someone somewhere at Microsoft isn't going to be slightly disappointed by the return thus far. Alongside Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo was supposed to be a system seller at the launch of the 360 in 2005. Whilst the American firm would go on to sell out of consoles, I'm not sure anyone could attribute that level of success to this title.
You role in the game is that of the titular Kameo, an elf princess with an evil sister hell-bent on unleashing all manner of nasty trolls on the enchanted kingdom which makes up your home. The game sees you take on a search for various elemental allies to morph into, each with unique skills and attributes which need to be combined to defeat the platform and combat challenges on the way to defeat Thorn, the troll King in league with your sister Kalus.
Gameplay in Kameo is largely simplistic. Each elemental sprite can be mapped to a face button on the 360 controller, with the triggers performing the unique actions or attacks for that character. The very basic nature of this system makes the game easy to play for people of all levels of gaming ability, and there are rarely any moments when complex strings of button inputs are needed. Even switching between characters in mid-air in order to pull off a different attack or cling on to an icy ledge can be pulled off without any hassle.
The main campaign breaks down into several quests that take Kameo into different themed areas for each of the elemental warriors that you have to rescue. Gameplay varies according to which characters you choose to utilise, but boils down to a fairly simple platform, puzzle and combat mechanic. Each section has a clear signpost for which characters to be using at any given time, and how to solve each puzzle. There is also a generous hint system in play, although its likely that you'll never need to use it. These themed sections vary in length, and there are three or four core characters that will come in useful in pretty much all of the situations you find yourself in. Unfortunately this tends to devalue the other elemental warriors that you are attempting to rescue, most of which are reduced to a gameplay cameo themselves. (pun intended)
The ease of pace in Kameo is put into perspective by the art direction. Rare have produced a saccharin-sweet, vibrant world clearly aimed at pulling in kids and adults with a sense of wonder. To the games credit, you'll often find yourself wandering around the various environments and looking at things in the background, or examining each game area for more visual treats before moving on. Whilst it doesn't have as much attention to detail as some of the better games around, the graphical style is nevertheless fairly consistently pleasing to the eye. The audio follows suit, with a generally high standard of sound, a good orchestral score and some decent voice acting. Although again this may be a little bit too grand and sickly-sweet for some people.
Once the initial few hours have been completed, the problems with Kameo unfortunately become all too apparent. Whilst the gameplay is responsive and simple enough to be fun, its fairly obvious that there are a lot of elements in the game that have been cut or under-developed to make the launch date. For a game that was in development for so many years, this is a huge disappointment. The environments, characters and game world created for Kameo would lend themselves to an experience that was at least 2-3 times as long. As it is, you can breeze through the game in around 6-7 hours without breaking a sweat, and whilst the environment of the game seems to have been designed for a more sandbox-oriented approach, there is little content on offer outside the campaign to encourage exploration or replay.
All of which is a shame, as when Kameo is on form its fantastic fun. When the game asks you to combine the abilities of your various personae in order to defeat a puzzle section, it can all come together, and the grander vision of what the game could have been can be briefly glimpsed. However there are far too few of these to save what could so obviously have been a very good game.
6 / 10