Kameo: Elements of Power

Which are hopefully more "pow" than "er".

Those onetime Britsoft gods at Rare have had a bit of a rough ride from the press in the last few years, and with some justification. Since Microsoft signed a gobsmackingly large cheque to add the studio to its internal development repertoire back in 2002, it hasn't exactly justified its price tag - producing only the fun but not exactly world-igniting Grabbed by the Ghoulies, and the forthcoming, foul-mouthed, Conker: Live & Reloaded. In what must be a bit of an embarrassment for Microsoft, if you wanted to play a really good Rare game in the last few years, the best place to do it was on Game Boy Advance.

J Allard has told us to be patient with Rare - but with Xbox 360 on the horizon, it's surely now time to deliver the goods? Perfect Dark Zero didn't exactly look hot in the early shots released last week - in fact, it was struggling to even look lukewarm - but I still hold out a hefty degree of fanboyish hope that it'll live up to our expectations, which is what the few people who saw it behind closed doors at E3 claim it will do.

And then, somewhat overshadowed by Joanna Dark's bombastic exploits, there's Kameo: Elements of Power, a game that's been redesigned so many times we've lost count, but which is now finally on the home straight and destined for launch early in the lifespan of the Xbox 360.

The idea behind Kameo is a slightly odd fantasy concept; you play as the eponymous fairy, capable of transforming into one of ten different creature forms to accomplish your (as yet unrevealed) goals. Each of those forms looks radically different and has different abilities as well as a different combat style - we particularly liked the pugilistic plant, which can drop down into the ground leaving only the flower on top of its head visible, and move around in that form, allowing Kameo to, for example, get past doors and gates with gaps underneath them.

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As you progress through the game, you'll also learn to chain attacks from different forms together into combos, so you might knock an enemy into the air with an uppercut from one form and then swiftly change form and fling icicles at it with a magical attack with another. It's a system that doesn't sound dissimilar to the way combat works in Bioware's Jade Empire, although we've yet to see how well it works in practice.

So far, this sounds largely like the Kameo we've seen before - but what the Xbox 360 version on show at E3 revealed was how Rare have used the power of the new console to give them some elbowroom to do cool new things with the game.

The graphics, as you might expect, look great, but the cartoonish style of individual models or environments don't look that much more advanced than what might be accomplished by a talented team working on the current-gen Xbox - albeit with some quite nice effects like making all of the creatures slightly transparent so that the player can see Kameo suspended inside them.

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Where the abilities of the 360 are really being applied, then, is in putting loads of things on screen at once. Since we last saw it, Kameo has not only developed a truly impressive amount of detail and action in its normal gameplay sections - one area high up on the battlements of a castle had orcs milling around, dragons swooping through the sky and some great atmospheric and combat effects to top it all off - but has also seen the addition of enormous battle scenes, with thousands of enemies facing off against each other and Kameo stuck in the thick of it. How many of these types of battles will be featured in the game - or indeed, what the top-level structure of the gameplay actually is - still isn't clear, but it certainly looks like the game aims to provide quite a welcome variety of different play styles.

It's not the best-looking Xbox 360 title we've seen, but Kameo sports a unique graphical style and very interesting looking gameplay which appears to have been spruced up significantly for its transition to next-generation. It should be emphasised that Kameo wasn't actually playable at E3, but rather was running in a real-time demo with Xbox staff on hand to explain the game - so it's certainly a bit too early to make any judgements, except that we're now a lot more interested in seeing what Rare have to offer for the Xbox 360 launch platter than we were before the show opened its doors.

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