Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kameo: Elements of Power Review

At the end of my Christmas break, I finished going through Kameo: Elements of Power, which came as a bonus title with my Xbox 360 Holiday Bundle.

The history of Kameo: Elements of Power is an interesting one. I read that Rare was originally developing the game for the GameCube, then shifted to the Xbox, and finally developed and released it as a launch title for the Xbox 360. While it seems to have had such a long development cycle, I honestly believe that Kameo: Elements of Power could have benefited from even more time being refined.

Kameo: Elements of Power is set in a Disney-esque fantasy world chronicling a war between the ruling Elves and the rising Trolls (who look a lot like Warcraft Orcs). You play as Kameo, youngest daughter of the royal family, and the one named heir to the throne by your mother after your father vanished. Your older sister, Kalus, is outraged at this betrayal and frees Thorn, the self-styled king of the Trolls, to wage war against the Enchanted Kingdom and bring the Elven nation to its knees.

As this war begins, Kalus also abducts most of her family, and the game begins with Kameo staging a solo rescue in Thorn's castle itself. Well, not exactly a solo rescue, as Kameo has the ability to transform into different Elemental Warriors, what seem to be spirits of the world used by the Elves to maintain piece and order. Basically, Kameo can become different cute animal-ish characters with different strengths and weaknesses to kick the snot out of the Troll forces.

While it does sound childish, and this is certainly a title children will enjoy, Kameo: Elements of Power plays very much like a classic adventure game from the mid-'90's, and it is this feeling of nostalgia that has captured my attention with the game. Because aside from that classic feeling, there's not too much else to the game.

The story I've outlined above is basically about as deep as it gets. The story of Kameo: Elements of Power is not properly developed in-game. The tutorial level sort of just drops you in there, and after you fail to rescue your family from Kalus' clutches, you're rescued somehow and awaken in the Mystic's hut. The Mystic is the royal adviser, and not an Elf. In fact, there are many other species in the world aside from Trolls and Elves, though I have no idea what most of them are called, what their back story and overall relation is to the main factions of this game. The reason I don't know is it simply isn't explained, which is quite the shame as there was potential for a good deal of depth.

So in a nutshell, I found the story to be very disappointing, but let's look at what matters most in the end, the actual gameplay. Kameo herself can move, jump, hover, and kick her way out of various situations all with relative ease of control, but for the bulk of the game you'll be controlling the Elemental Warriors that you set out to collect/rescue. There's a whole lot of variety here, as there are 10 Warriors in total, from the boxing plant creature Pummel Weed who excels at combat early on, to the ape-like Chilla who can climb icy walls and throw spikes of ice at enemies from a safe distance. The game often features interesting puzzles for the player to solve, traditionally needing the specific power of one Elemental Warrior to achieve results.

The game also features some very nice, large, and detailed areas to explore. In times this exploration almost reminded me of exploring Albion in Fable: The Lost Chapters, but not quite up to that level. Along the way, aside from helping general clans people who reward you with Elemental Fruit which allows you to increase the abilities of your Elemental Warriors, you'll be beating the snot out of hundreds of Trolls. Again, with the different Warriors you have lots of different options on how to dispose of your enemies, but by the end of the game you'll feel that you've simply done it all and have been doing the same repetitive motions for hours. It's strange how even with multiple options, the gameplay is ultimately a bit bland.

The game also isn't very difficult, and you also have something called the Wotnot book, which has a wizard in it who can give you tips. In fact, he'll often do more than that, he'll tell you exactly what to do to solve any given situation after a bit of time. While this makes the game's puzzles too easy, it also does alleviate some frustration if you do get stuck. Too bad the wizard's advice is all text instead of voice over.

Overall though, it is the game's controls that I feel needed more refinement. While simplistic in their presentation and execution, I found it could be very frustrating getting around certain areas with Major Ruin, and controlling Deep Blue underwater was an absolute nightmare, what with his thumbstick inversion that makes simple submerging a challenge. There are also many points where you need to push an object along, however the collision detection of the game is too good, and more oft than not you'd begin to run past what you were pushing, have to move back and repeat again. Tedious. While the game certainly features many fun and exciting moments, there's nothing quite like running over a mass of Trolls while mounted on a horse in the Bad Lands, it did need some more polish.

Graphically, Kameo: Elements of Power is a beautiful game. The world is rich and detailed as are the characters. The colour scheme is lush and vibrant and water effects are very, very nice. The game does have some texture pop-in, unfortunately, which I find surprising for a console launch title.

Audio wise, while the voice acting is good and the sound effects are standard fair, the soundtrack is simply awesome. The score ranges from epic to subtle to cute, all depending on the situation and location. Fantasy games are always a treat as they often feature a stellar soundtrack, and as we all know music has a big impact on drama and tension.

So the question of course is if Kameo: Elements of Power is worth picking up. Well, it's now a Platinum Hits title and is on sale for only $19.99. That's not a huge lot of money and for that cost, there is a good deal of fun here. Because the game does have some issues, however, I would recommend either trying out the demos available at the Xbox Live Marketplace, or renting the game for a weekend first.

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