Reviewing launch titles for a new game console, especially one as anticipated as the Xbox 360, is a precarious prospect that is oftentimes not as fair as it could or should be for the title in question. Do you base your opinion solely of the merits of what the game brings to the experience, or do you look at the title with a more discerning and critical eye given the fact that it is coming to retail with much more potential and resources available to it than those games that came before? Rare’s Kameo: Elements of Power is a perfect example of this. The story of how Kameo finally made it to retail could fill volumes. Having originally been planned as a GameCube title before switching gears alongside the company’s purchase by Microsoft in 2002, it wasn’t long before development was transferred to the Xbox. However, numerous delays and the inevitable scope creep kept the game from being much more than a pretty fantasy. It wasn’t until Microsoft announced the coming of their new platform did everything begin to align regarding the game’s future as a launch title for the Xbox 360.
In this game, you play as Kameo, an elf princess with the unique ability to harness spirits in order to transform in a variety of creatures at will. Right from the onset the game throws you into the action, and in so doing it forces you to become acquainted with how to switch between the various forms, as well as what situations call for which abilities. For example, at one point your actions cause a water tower to rise up into the sky, and you quickly learn that you must somehow reach the top of said tower by transforming into a rolling armadillo, rocketing yourself toward the tower, and then quickly shifting forms into an ice beast so that you can scale the side of the tower using your monstrous claws. These sorts of puzzles abound in Kameo, and while few, if any prove difficult or confounding in any way, the majority are thankfully implemented in such a way as to not feel tacked on or otherwise superfluous.
The same, however, cannot be said for the forms themselves. In total the game features ten separate creature transformations that can be used once they have been found. However, only three forms may be equipped at any one time, with each one assigned to a different face button for quick transformations as needed. These various creatures offer a much broader ability set than one typically finds in a run of the mill action adventure. The problem, however, is that the lion’s share of the abilities are, in fact, unnecessary. Even by the end of the game you never get the sense that these abilities have been utilized to their full potential, and sadly many forms end up being forgotten altogether.
One of the things that has been pushed since the announcement of the Xbox 360 is sheer horsepower in its ability to display nearly limitless on-screen characters at once without slowdown. This game gives an example of this early on by putting Kameo in the middle of a raging battle between elves and trolls. Upon horseback, you quickly grasp the enormity of the situation as you reach the top of a nearby hill, only to see a wave of trolls spilling toward you like a sea of green and red. As you ride onto the outskirts of the conflict, it is something to behold seeing the throngs of warriors tearing into each other as far as the eyes can see. Before this current console generation, this sort of event would have been resigned to taking place as part of a pre-rendered cutscene, but now the potential for a fully interactive world seems to be at our doorsteps.
As with every new leap in technology, the first thing that is noticed is the presentation, and, more specifically, how it compares to the generation prior. While certainly more colorful than those games that have come before it, Kameo‘s visual aptitude is not what one would consider groundbreaking. Perhaps this is just a case of smaller gaps in what can and cannot be done on the hardware as compared to, for example, the upgrade from the SNES to the Nintendo 64, but Kameo does not look the part of a game that serves to usher in a new era of gaming. The whole experience exudes a sort of rendered, glossy feel that harkens to that first time you got hold of Photoshop and couldn’t help but use every available filter at your disposal on a given picture. The result, while interesting, was altogether garish, which is how Kameo comes off as well. Thankfully the sound design helps to cover up for some of these visual shortcomings, with an epic score and voice acting that is more than adequate.
Considering Kameo‘s storied past, and the fact that it is one of the first titles for this much-anticipated platform, it perhaps isn’t as surprising as it would be otherwise that the game suffers from a number of noticeable shortcomings. A relatively short-lived experience lasting only ten or so hours, this is a game that, in typical Rare fashion, positions the entirety of its gameplay upon a single gimmick that, sadly, fails to carry to experience on its own. Kameo is a good game, but it reeks of missed potential, which is unfortunate especially considering how many hurdles it had to jump through in order to see the light of day. If we know Rare, there is little doubt that we will see Kameo again someday, and perhaps the kinks will then be worked out and the end result will be much more memorable than this initial outing.