Kao the Kangaroo was always a trap. It might have looked, to the casual observer, like a cutesy and accessible platformer, but it was a wolf in kangaroo’s clothing. The platforming was surprisingly precise, the combat didn’t leave much room for failure, and later levels were pains in the arse. This wasn’t a game that you could hand over to your kids -not unless they were better than you.
Up to this point, the DLC for Kao the Kangaroo has leaned into that rock-hard identity. They have mostly topped up the game’s challenge wells, offering feats of platforming against the clock for you to complete. They have been aimed squarely at the hardcore Kao crowd, rather than offering up more levels for the casual player. Which makes sense: if you’re stumping up cash for more Kao the Kangaroo, you’re probably good at it.
But it also means that the DLC so far has been flimsy, without any story, exploration or bosses to really get the teeth into. They’re tests of skill, dialing up the platforming and combat difficulty to see if you’ll survive. But we’d be lying if we said that they satisfied us. We were the kind of player who just about stumbled over the line of its campaign, and we wanted more to explore.
It makes us the perfect candidates for Kao the Kangaroo: Bend The Roo’les DLC. Finally, we get five new levels to explore and a boss at the end of them all. These aren’t glorified challenge rooms: this is a bonafide extension of the main game. And we have a chance of actually completing them, rather than dying a multitude of horrifying deaths.
Or so we thought. Because while there is a feeling that Kao the Kangaroo: Bend The Roo’les is, finally, true DLC, it can’t completely abandon its hardcore sensibilities. It is brutal. If this were baked into the main game, it would have been the final levels – and then some. Part of us wondered whether it really needed to be.
Long platforming sequences aren’t only fiendish, but they are often done against the clock. Large buttons need to be pressed to create the platforms you need to speed across. You are showing your quality with time ticking down.
If it’s not time-limits, it’s enemies. Complicated sequences are interrupted by spiders dropping into your face, or fish firing homing fireballs at you. There’s a sense of designers constructing superbly well done and unforgiving platforming sections and not being able to hold themselves back. They add one enemy more than they need to, and suddenly it becomes a little too onerous – at least to our taste.
We moan mostly because Kao the Kangaroo has never been good at giving you some leeway. It retains all of its old problems. Kao will grab onto ledges after jumping shortfalls, but not 100% of the time. We’d miss a platform, hope to hang on, but find that Kao would fall to his death instead. Combat would over-commit us to an attack and refuse to let us cancel it. An enemy or attack would appear out of nowhere, with little to no telegraphing. You can make headway into a level, further than you’ve been before, only to get whacked in the face by something new.
We’ve never liked the way Kao handles failure. Lose enough lives, and you are reset to the back of the entire level, with all enemies refreshed. Levels aren’t short, not by a long shot. Often it can mean another ten minutes of arduous, skillful play. When the difficulty has been increased by a hefty percentage, those two come at odds. Losing your last life and realising that you have to do it all again is a hard feeling to leapfrog over.
But if you manage to leapfrog these problems, bouncing over them like the kangaroo you are, then you have a hearty bit of DLC here. Five levels is substantial, and they all feature different biomes, different abilities and different skillsets. Some are more platforming focused, others combat. A lava level focuses on your timing, and ability to anticipate the swings of axes. Another level has you platforming at speed. While there are very few new props or enemies here (the boss, the Crab King, is the exception) they at least have been remixed in inventive ways.
It is what we asked for. There’s a pleasure in returning to Kao, in particular it’s larger than life and gloriously colourful environments. Outside of some harsh penalties, it remains one of the more polished platformers on the Xbox. It doesn’t challenge Crash Bandicoot or Spyro, and Kao the Kangaroo: Bend The Roo’les DLC won’t change that opinion, but if you’ve exhausted those games and found them on the easy side, then Kao the Kangaroo is the recommendation that it has always been.
Which leaves a final grumble. Did the Kao the Kangaroo: Bend The Roo’les DLC have to be as dislocated as it is? It’s an option on the menu, and doesn’t integrate into the main game at all. That means that new players can play straight away, sure (but why would they want to, considering the difficulty on offer), but it also means that you can’t bring your established character and upgrades along for the ride.
Kao the Kangaroo: Bend The Roo’les DLC is a case of ‘be careful what you wish for’. We weren’t fans of the direction of Kao’s DLC so far, as they focused on charmless challenge wells. We wanted new levels and bosses. Our requests have been heard with Kao the Kangaroo: Bend The Roo’les DLC, but not without small print. The levels are just as difficult as the challenge wells, and come with all the frustrations of the main game. We are thankful for what Kao the Kangaroo: Bend The Roo’les offers, then, but we’d liked to have pulled our hair out a little less.