August 04, 2007
Few names in the gaming industry are as revered as Rare Entertainment, and justly so. Having produced more classic titles than nearly any other development team in history, Rare has most certainly earned their title. With hits like Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, Conker's Bad Fur Day, Jet Force Jemini, Killer Instinct, Banjo Kazooie, and many more, it's not hard to see why Xbox gamers the world over rejoiced when the news hit that Rare would be developing games for the Xbox 360 before it's launch. With a near perfect track record when it comes to releasing quality games, Rare certainly didn't disappoint when they released Kameo: Elements of Power at the Xbox 360's launch. Kameo was one of the best selling titles released for months after the 360's initial launch, and to this day is one of the finest games available on the platform.
Mixing a solid blend of adventure and platforming elements into a fascinating fantasy backdrop with a memorable cast of characters, Kameo is a remarkable feat of gaming ingenuity capable of holding its own with the best the genre has to offer, close to the quality found in Nintendo's Legend of Zelda franchise. The story begins with Kameo, the daughter of the elven queen Theena, leading a one woman assault on the castle of the evil Troll King Thorn. Kameo's sister Kalus, driven mad by jealousy after their mother chose to give the power of the ten elemental warriors to Kameo instead of her, has removed the curse keeping Thorn imprisoned and kidnapped Kameo's family. Using the powers of the ten elemental warriors gifted to her by her mother, Kameo makes it all the way to the top of the castle to confront Thorn. Thorn catches her by surprise, and manages to steal the elemental warriors, rendering Kameo helpless. After escaping the tower, Kameo must follow the guidance of the family's advisor, the wretched looking Mystic, in order to regain the power of the elemental warriors and save her kingdom from the troll army's onslaught.
The story is captivating from beginning to end, and could have just as easily been translated to a book or a movie and still maintained its depth. Every character is memorable, and by the end of the game you'll have grown an attachment to the various personalities you've run across. While the story in itself follows the standard archetype of most fantasy clichés, it's the characters that set it apart from the rest. Each character has a personality that makes them come to life on your screen. From the prophetic old Mystic, to the wise and eccentric Ortho (who happens to be a talking head on the cover of the Wotnot book and your guide throughout the game), no character throughout the story will ever seem boring to you. This is unquestionably one of the greatest stories ever told in gaming, and not one you should miss. Unfortunately, the story's a bit too short, and most gamers will be finished with the campaign in roughly 10 hours.
The gameplay revolves largely around using the elemental warriors you find throughout your quest to conquer your foes. At any time, Kameo can transform into one of these warriors with a press of a button. You can bind the warriors to one of your Xbox 360 controller's face buttons, and switch which ones are bound at anytime by either opening the Wotnot book or using a wheel that can be opened in the middle of the game by holding in the face button for the warrior you want to switch out. While the controls are easy to manage for the most part, some of the warriors can be a bit unwieldy to use. Most notably in the underwater portions, where wrestling with the controls and the camera for your water elemental warriors can become a chore. But aside from the control issues, everything else is flawless.
Surprisingly, Kameo's multiplayer functionality is quite robust, a feature many games of the genre lack completely. You can team up with a friend over Xbox Live to tackle all of the different dungeons in the game, in any order you'd like. The main goal in the co-op missions is to achieve the highest score possible to get a high ranking on that level, unlocking several achievements. As if that wasn't enough, there's several different competitive game modes that were added to the game via downloadable content over Xbox Live shortly after the game's release. Speaking of downloadable content, Kameo has quite an abundance of it. On top of the downloadable multiplayer game modes, there's also a variety of different downloads to change the appearance of your elemental warriors and other aspects of the game. While most of the content is aesthetic, it's still a nice addition to the game for anyone who enjoys the game enough to drop a few bucks for it.
Graphically Kameo is, in a word, stunning. Even now, over a year since its release, the visuals look outstanding and have inarguably withstood the test of time. The entire world is brilliantly colored, and looks like something pulled straight out of a fairy tale. Every character, texture, and level looks phenomenal. This can be largely attributed to a masterful art style, that plays off several famous fantasy clichés while adding Rare's own artistic vision. For example, the elves aren't your standard Tolkien-esque fare, but instead have rather fairy-like features, most noticeably the butterfly wings on the females. Also worth mentioning is the sheer number of enemies that can appear on the screen at once, which at one time was a huge tech demo for the Xbox 360 before its launch. There are times when there's literally hundreds of trolls and elves battling it out on the screen at once, with dozens of dragons flying through the sky. While it's not as impressive a year and a half later, this was a huge accomplishment at the time, and it's still amazing to see the first time you walk onto the world map and witness the massive conflict raging on between the elves and the trolls.
Another feature Rare is famous for is the quality audio work in their products, and Kameo is no exception. The voice acting is spot on, which serves to give character their own unique personality in a way that can't be conveyed simply through graphical prowess. From the raspy voice of the Mystic, to the eccentric ramblings of Ortho, every character sounds amazing. The musical score is excellent, blending a solid mix of dramatic, Lord of the Rings style pieces with a bit of upbeat, mystical tunes that capture the spirit of the game in a way that only music can. No shortcuts were taken with the sound effects either. Every one of your elemental warriors and their various arsenal of powers sounds spot on. From the shattering ice shards of Chilla's Spike Storm, to the blazing fires of Ash's Inferno, everything sounds just as you'd imagine it. It's clear that Rare's audio team spent many hours perfecting the sounds of Kameo, and it shows through at every point in the game.
Kameo's achievements range from easy to incredibly difficult. The majority of them can be unlocked over the course of the story, netting you a solid 600 points or so. But the remaining 400 are another story altogether. One of the achievements is awarded after you've found every single item in the game, which is no small task given the sheer size of the game world. There's also several achievements for obtaining the highest rank possible on each of the game's dungeons, which is no small feat either. To obtain the highest ranking, you need to string together combos with your elemental warriors and maintain them for as long as possible through the level by avoiding taking damage. There's also a wide variety of different multiplayer achievements, although the only ones that reward any gamer points are for beating each co-op mission with a friend. Getting the full 1000 points in Kameo is certainly a challenge, but unlocking about 700 of them is relatively simple.
Kameo is the complete package when it comes to adventure gaming. With a solid story, fascinating fantasy world, and great gameplay mechanics, Rare has delivered a game worthy of being mentioned in the same sentence as other family friendly adventure classics like Nintendo's Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Super Mario 64. Of all the games released at the Xbox 360's birth, Kameo is one of the few that has withstood the test of time. Kameo is one of Rare's best works yet, and a true masterpiece for the Xbox 360. Adventure games don't get much better than this, and Rare has proven once again why their name deserves the respect it conjures up when mentioned in any conversation about gaming.
There's not much else Rare could have done to make the audio experience more immersive. With an excellent musical score and spot on sound effects, everything here is top notch quality. The voice acting is superb as well. Every character in the game sounds great, and you'll remember some of their voices long after you've finished with the game.
While not as visually stunning as some of the Xbox 360's current titles, the artistic style gives life to a vibrant fantasy world that's unparalleled in its detail. The character designs look amazing, and the twists on the typical fantasy clichés that Rare added give them all a unique look. Also worth mentioning is the sheer number of objects placed on the screen at once. The first time you step out into the open world and see the war raging between the trolls and the elves, you'll feel like you're actually in the middle of a massive conflict.
Playing the game is easy enough, however there are a few flaws in the gameplay mechanics. Switching between which elemental warriors you have bound to a certain button on the controller can be a hassle, although it's not bad enough that it detracts too much from the overall experience. Controlling some warriors can be a real pain however, especially when you're attempting to maneuver underwater. The camera also has issues in certain spots, but it's manageable for the most part.
Kameo provides unquestionably one of the most vibrant fantasy worlds ever seen on a console. Every aspect of the game is full of life, and there are no areas in the massive world that feel like they were forgotten by the developers. The addition of a solid multiplayer component over Xbox Live is great if you'd like to tackle the game with a friend, and it's a feature rarely seen in games of this genre. Everything about Kameo shows the hard work Rare put into delivering yet another quality action adventure title.
The achievements are well thought out, and there's a solid mix of difficulty between them. While some are easily achieved in one play through of the story, it will take a considerable amount of work to unlock the rest of them, which will keep you playing long after your final confrontation with Thorn. The multiplayer achievements are well done as well, and it'll take a great deal of teamwork between you and a friend to unlock them all. Kameo is also one of the first Xbox 360 titles to offer additional achievements through downloadable content, and the additions are interesting and fun to unlock, although they offer no gamerscore points.
If you're a fan of action adventure titles such as the Legend of Zelda series, Kameo's a sure bet if you're looking for a good time in an original fantasy gameworld. With graphics that will always look amazing regardless of how much time has passed and how advanced technology has come, the art style is worthy of praise, and it's one of Rare's finest accomplishments yet. The audio is phenomenal, with an excellent musical score and superb sound effects and voice acting. While there's some issues with the camera and controls at times, the gameplay feels solid for the most part, and the ability to morph into ten different upgradeable elemental warriors is a great mechanic that offers a variety of different strategical options and interesting puzzles. Also, with a low price tag due to its age, it's an amazing deal for a quality game. You really can't go wrong with this one, and if you haven't played Kameo yet, you owe yourself the favor.