Before I sat down to write this review, I spent some time thinking about Kameo and what I wanted to say about it. I came to one conclusion right off the bat—but it was something I didn't want to say: I didn't want to make a big deal out of just how long this game has been in development. I swear that every review I've read or heard of the game makes some point about how long this game was in coming out, how many platforms it was supposed to be on, and how Rare is now a shadow of its former self. I didn't want to dwell on any of this…but I was being naïve, I think. It's all but impossible to look at Kameo as a finished product and not consider the long and winding road it followed to its Xbox 360 release. I mean, let's face it—this is the Duke Nukem Forever of console games. Anyone who thinks that the long development cycle (and the switch from multiple platforms) didn't impact the final product is kidding themselves.
For proof, one need look no further than at the very first level of the game. It's been widely reported that Rare wanted to open the game one way, while Microsoft felt a more action-oriented beginning was the way to go. The result is that Kameo opens up with an action sequence so dreadful and cumbersome I actually know people who threw down the controller right then and there and never played again.
While there's nothing technically wrong with this opening segment, it does a great job of highlighting everything that's wrong with Kameo. To call this a schizophrenic game doesn't even begin to do it justice—Kameo is a title with an identity crisis so severe it never really gets a handle on what it's supposed to be about. It flits from being an action RPG to a platformer, to a collect-a-thon, to three other types of games, often in the span of several minutes. Its constantly changing identity serves to satisfy no one, as each gaming element comes into play and then is instantly whisked away for another element a few seconds later. The end result was often me feeling like my head was going to explode.
Kameo has the ability to transform into various monsters in her quest to protect the kingdom and surrounding lands. Players will spend roughly the next ten hours trying to regain their powers and save the world. Unfortunately, most of that ten hours is spent doing the same few things over and over again. A typical segment of Kameo proceeds like this: Travel to the area where your power is hidden, open a gate, go in, fight a mini-boss, advance to a second dungeon area, use the newly acquired spirit power to solve some puzzles, beat the boss, and go to the next area where the game asks players to do the same tasks again.
The game makes a failed attempt to hide its linearity with the Badlands—a segment of land that Kameo can travel through on her way to other places. In the Badlands, war is always being waged. Hundreds of combatants crowd the screen (in one of the few moments where people will actually say, "Oh! So this is why I needed a 360!") and Kameo and her trusty steed can partake in the battles…or she can just ride right past them. Kameo can explore this area to find a bunch of mini-games and collectable fruits (which earn "gamer points"), but there's not really much incentive for doing so. Strengthening the elementals isn't a real priority since the game is already easy enough without doing it. As far as gamer points go, I still don't really understand the allure of them, unless they're just for people who want to show off how cool they are for finding everything in a game. I lost the desire to be that guy when I turned eleven, though.
In the game's defense, some of the puzzles are pretty decent (although the in-game help guy will often ruin them for players with his chattering help—turn him off if you'd like to solve the puzzles on your own), and the gameplay is solid (if repetitive). Players expecting to spend a lot of time in Elf form will be disappointed—most of Kameo centers around the players staying in the elemental forms for long stretches of time.
Graphically, the game is a looker Yet as nice as the graphics are, they're outdone by the score. The game's music was the highlight of the Kameo experience for me—trumping gameplay and everything else by a wide margin. Voice acting doesn't fare quite as well as the orchestral scores, but it's not terrible either. Playing the title with a 5.1 surround sound system is quite a treat.
Perhaps the most unique thing about Kameo as a whole is the control scheme. Personally, I found the controls bothersome since they're so awkward in comparison to what gamers are used to. Rather than use the face buttons, almost every sort of action that can be done in the game is mapped to the triggers. This means players will jump, attack, and do other things without ever touching a face button. Face buttons are reserved for the transformation into various elemental forms. The bizarre scheme does become manageable with time, but it still felt wrong to me even at the end of the game. I think Kameo would have been a lot more accessible with a traditional control scheme wherein the face buttons were used for the actions and the triggers for the elementals. As its set up now, it just feels really backwards.
Ultimately, when I think back to my time with Kameo I'm more sad than anything. There was a good game buried in there, and I think Rare would have found it if they hadn't had to develop and redevelop the title for different platforms over a number of years. It's also a shame that a title like Kameo (which looks to me like it was going to be sort of a midlist game from a reputable developer) got so much press that expectations went way beyond what the intended final product could have ever fulfilled anyway. Don't get me wrong—I'm not a Rare fanboy, but I do think some of the flak they've taken in recent years has been unfair. That being said, Kameo is a slightly better than average launch game. It's not a system seller and not a game that people will be looking back at with reverence in ten years—nor is it a complete failure and abomination. All in all, it's just a game that works some of the time but doesn't have enough drive and ambition behind it to vault it to the upper echelon of must play experiences. 360 owners should check it out (it's not like there's a hundred games coming out a month anyway), but go in with reasonable expectations.