Reviewed: December 19, 2005
Released: November 22, 2005
Rare has never ceased to amaze me with what they can do on any console whether it be GoldenEye on the N64, Conker on the Xbox, or even their niche titles like Grabbed by the Ghoulies. So what can this programming powerhouse do when Microsoft unleashes the ultimate console? Create pure magicÖ
Kameo: Elements of Power has been around almost as long as GCM; as an idea, probably longer, but it took the power of the Xbox 360 to bring the Rare vision of this enchanting title to fruition. Kameo has it all, an epic story of good versus evil, magical landscapes and supernatural worlds, charming characters, and some of the best and most original gameplay to come along for quite some time.
Admittedly, Kameo isnít doing anything that probably couldnít have been done on the other consoles. Sure, it wouldnít have looked nearly this good, but Rare has that unique talent for adding just the right touches to the tried and true third-person action genre to create something entirely unique.
In this case you play as Kameo, a cute female elf, or perhaps a pixie since elves typically donít have wings to fly and hover. She is daughter to the queen and sister to Kalus. Kalus is jealous of Kameoís popularity and takes matters into her own hands to ensure she will be the sister to inherit the throne.
The game starts off with an opening level that doubles as a tutorial. Here, you will have access to only a few of the possible Elemental Warriors, but that will be enough to teach you the basics of how, when, and why to shape shift. The level ends with your apparent defeat at which point you are basically stripped of all your powers and must start from scratch.
The presentation is classic storybook style and even features a virtual book, the Wotnot Book, you can open and page through to setup your character, upgrade your warriors, get hints, and change game options. The game centers on Kameo finding her lost powers as well as several new warriors and using them to defeat Kalus and her evil minions and save the realm.
There are ten Elemental Warriors, each with their own purpose and special abilities to overcome specific obstacles within the game. Itís usually pretty obvious which creature you need to morph into to complete any given objective. You can only have three warriors assigned to the morph buttons at any time, but you can hold down any of the morph buttons to bring up a wheel of all your available warriors and select from it.
Using the Elemental Warriors also takes spirit energy, especially when using the more powerful attacks. You can upgrade the spirit bar for each warrior independently to allow you to stay in that form for longer periods, but when the bar runs out you will have to switch back to Kameo or another warrior until it automatically recharges. Yes, it can be annoying to be forced out of your favorite warrior form, but it keeps the game balanced.
Letís meet some of the warriors:
Pummel Weed is a giant Venus flytrap with boxing gloves. NoÖseriously. He is a heavy hitting brawler great for combat. Once upgraded he can perform ankle-slashing helicopter attacks and massive uppercuts from underground. Heís fast and his ability to limbo under low obstructions can get him into places other warriors could not.
Rubble is basically a collection of rocks that come together to form a monster that can throw pieces of himself or even create small explosions sending out a spray of rocky shrapnel. All of his parts slowly roll back and reform into the original creature and his upgrade attacks are even more powerful. Rubble also has the ability to control other rocks and create unique formations or even useful structures like a bridge.
Ash is a tiny but ferocious red dragon with a searing breath weapon that comes in either fireball form for ranged attacks or flamethrower for close encounters. This character looks so much like the dragon from Shrek youíll be wondering where the donkey is. And kudos to the designers for not only the amazing scale textures, but also the smoking footprints that trail behind you.
Deep Blue is the creature you want to morph into when it comes time to swim or do anything in the water. This is the only character than can swim underwater and with twin jet stream attacks, is a most formidable character below the surface. On landÖnot so much.
Major Ruin is what you would get if you mated an armadillo and an elephant. He can roll up into a sphere (think Metroid) and roll around levels decimating the enemy with his spiky exterior. This rolling skill also comes into play for several tricky navigation puzzles up ramps and through tubes.
Chilla is one of the warriors you will play in the opening level and one of my favorites, at least visually. He is a brawler and a climber with the ability to latch onto icy walls and scale them with ease. He can also grab the enemy and flip them around, use them as a club, or toss them onto the spikes on his back and watch them flap around helplessly.
Those are just six of the ten warriors in Kameo: Elements of Power. The rest are just as cool and fun to play and Iíll let you discover them on your own. The best thing is, that the gameplay is constantly challenging you to figure out which warriors you will need to work, often together, to solve the various environmental and combat puzzles. The boss battles in particular, will require all of your mastery of the warriorsí abilities.
Oddly enough, for the titular character, Kameo is the form in which you will play the least. She merely serves as a transitional character when your spirit bar is drained. Once you have acquired your first three or four warriors you will seldom have the urge or the need to play as Kameo.
Combat is quite satisfying no matter which warrior you end up using. You can unleash any available attacks and more attacks can be purchased to upgrade your character in the Wotnot Book. You string these attacks into combos until your Focus Meter is filled and then everything goes into slow motion and your attacks get more focused and more deadly.
Despite the Focus meter as well as counters for Brutal, Carnage, and Frenzy, combat is pretty straightforward and relies on nothing more than character knowledge and good reflexes. Combat is always energetic and fun, but only become challenge when you are grossly outnumber or when you are trying to learn the tactics required to defeat the various bosses.
The combat I did not like were the required trips to the Shadow Realm to obtain each of my warriors. In this monochromatic world you have to fight (as Kameo) all of these shadow creatures. Her flip kick is usually pretty fast and good enough to get the job done, but then you have to build up enough energy for a focused attack on the boss spirit. This is a ranged attack and very hard to aim and shoot in the frenzy of battle. It also gets progressively harder the further you go through the list of warriors.
Kameo is easily one of the best-looking games in the 360 launch line-up, if not the best. I was watching this game on those in-store kiosks for a month prior to launch and I couldnít help but think the game looked like it was running on a PC with a pair of high-end video cards. The colors, the textures, the special effects, and the silky framerates are the very definition of next-gen.
I pity those who play this game on anything less than an HDTV, and if you have been waiting for a reason to upgrade your set, the 360 makes a pretty strong case, especially when you are running Kameo on it. The game is doing so much that could never have been done before, not only with the power of the 360, but the power of high-definition.
There are so many subtle details like textures that literally pop off the screen, subtle particle effects, or waves of trolls that cascade down the hillside like a scene from Lord of the Rings. And one of my favorite effects has to be the fact that you can just barely make out the form of Kameo inside each of her warrior forms, almost like a hamster in those clear plastic balls.
Itís scary to think that a game can look this good at launch. Typically we are only seeing a hint of what a system can do this early in its lifespan, so if this is the low setting of the high bar for graphics we may have to adjust our grading scale a year or two down the road. For now, I canít imagine a game that could look more beautiful than Kameo, both technically and artistically. It truly is a storybook come to life.
The music in Kameo is as epic as the story and the visuals. There can be subtle flutes and wind instruments for magical fairylands or these big orchestral scores for rampaging through armies of trolls on horseback and blowing up tanks. Itís a big soundtrack that often achieves a scale even grander than the gameplay it is backing up.
Sound effects are flawless for Kameo, her various warrior forms and just about anyone she encounters throughout the game. There is also an unparalleled attention to detail in all of the environmental sounds that really bring these enchanting worlds to life. Just hanging out by the waterfall is a relaxing experience.
The voice acting is phenomenal, although Ortho, the voice of the book did start to wear on my nerves. He actually gets upset when you donít make use of his hints. I canít think of anybody in the game that didnít have something entertaining to say. I havenít seen this much dialogue, personality, or unique character development since Oddworld: Strangers Wrath.
Kameo is a decent sized adventure clocking in at 12-15 hours, perhaps a bit more if you are dedicated to completing all the side quests and finding all the hidden fruit. By design, you can use the magic mirror to return to any level after the game has been finished and increase your score or find those missing items. It's unlikely you will get everything on your first pass, and if you try you might sap some of the fun from the game.
There is also a cooperative mode that allows you to have a friend join in via split-screen and play any of the levels you have previously unlocked in solo play. Iíve only dabbled with this slightly and it seemed a bit clunky and even a forced addition. Iím not a huge fan of split-screen games, and Kameo does nothing to change that opinion.
There are 1000 Achievement points to be collected, mostly by finding all ten of your warriors. Other points are awarding for completing the game or achieving high ranks on certain missions or even co-op quests. None of these Achievements are beyond the scope of a dedicated gamer although you might have to spend a few extra hours to earn some of them.
With more than five years of hype leading up to its release, itís a wonder Kameo: Elements of Power didnít fall flat under our own expectations. But Rare has once again pulled the rabbit from the hat and proved that intelligent game design, charming characters, a grand story, and a next-gen audio and visual presentation is the foundation for an enduring title that should be part of every Xbox 360 game library.