E3 2003: Kameo: Elements of Power
Bit-part or top performer?
Were it not for Rare's forced defection to Xbox exclusivity, we'd probably be playing Kameo on GameCube by now. Ah well, such is the nature of multi-million dollar business deals. We did, however, get treated to a four-level demo of the game at this year's E3, which gave us a neat glimpse into possibly the most interesting and accomplished of the trio of Rare titles debuted at the Exposition.
The official blurb boldly claims that Kameo is "a magical, epic adventure full of magnificent exploration and intense combat". We're not necessarily buying the bits about it being 'magical', 'magnificent', or indeed 'intense', but there's certainly plenty of exploration and combat. It is, after all, a third-person action-adventure with a few knobs on. Morphing knobs, basically.
Pretend no one else used the idea before
Learned readers might recall that Midway's sadly overlooked Dr Muto gave players the same facility to spontaneously change into an entirely different creature, allowing you to access different areas and use different attacks. But seeing as it sold about two copies worldwide, we'll pretend it's a new idea. Besides, Kameo gives you 18 elemental monsters to play around with over the course of the game, as opposed to the four in Dr Muto.
Apparently the future of the world depends on Kameo, a sort of fairy princess-type character, with aforementioned morphing magical powers. Her quest is to rescue her three Elemental Ancestors from the Dark Troll King, who threatens the planet and its wildlife like some kind of ancient corporate behemoth. Huh.
In the demo, only four fairly basic levels were shown off: Enchanted Kingdom, Rubble's Cave, Forgotten Forest and Ogru's Swamp - all fairly leafy, pretty levels that wouldn't look out of place next to Alice In Wonderland. In terms of graphical grace its splendour is unquestionable, with vivid, detailed and well-animated characters complemented by some delightful environments, peppered with lush flora and fauna.
Pummel me into submission
The first level, Enchanted Kingdom tasks you with finding your first monster. With the help of your sidekick Meepo you have to catch three grubs, which are hiding in among a group of tall flowers. When you see the flowers open, you must tap R to get Meepo to jump onto them, shake furiously until the grub emerges, jump off, make chase, capture it (left trigger), and repeat until you have the three required to invoke your monster (by hitting L and R trigger simultaneously). Tapping X morphs Kameo into the Pummel Weed, a boxing plant, and hitting the L or R allows you to punch many of the game's enemies into submission, as well as morph yourself flat, allowing you to flip shells and sneak under narrow gaps.
Next up, Rubble's Cave has Kameo and Meepo sneaking around bounders trying to capture a particularly scared creature. Stealth seems to be the key, and after endless running around we soon realised that waiting until it scurried past before leaping onto it was the best tactic. Armed with the Rubble monster, you can then lob parts of its body at whatever you choose, making it a good combat monster capable of destroying Mosquito nests and many of the other creatures around.
However, in the next level, Forgotten Forests, you soon realise that each monster has its own strengths and weaknesses, and clearing levels of enemy requires plenty of switching between them before you can succeed. The different types of enemy that populate this particular level each need a different approach, while on the Ogru's Swamp level Kameo has to use a noisy flower to attract and annoy the enemy so it runs into a tree, in order to knock down the booty hanging from it. Later levels feature dark areas that can only be traversed with a fire-based creature, and so on, opening up a potentially intriguing set of gameplay possibilities.
Why they took the money and ran
The puzzle/combat dynamic in the early levels at E3 certainly offered plenty of promise for later in the game, with around 20 levels, three bosses, and 30 rooms in the Troll castle to explore in the full game. At first glance it doesn't look anything special, but within a few minutes we must admit it had us hooked, and left us wanting more. But at the same time we weren't spellbound by it, and had it not been Rare behind the game we might not have even spent the time with it in the first place. In terms of quality exclusive content, Kameo is the kind of game Microsoft needs in its supporting catalogue, but its not the front running triple-A masterpiece - which makes you understand why Nintendo was so willing to take the money and run.