If anything, Rare has made things so damn difficult for themselves. They can't blame anyone else; after all, they did make so many superb games back in the day. But that was then, and this is now, yet it doesn't stop the weight of expectation hanging heavily on the neck of both Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo - two of the 360's key launch titles. It's this factor that makes us look at Kameo in a completely different light to any other adventure game. Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, it's brilliant. Expectations have been met.
Kameo has had quite a history, with many years of development and multiple platform changes. The game itself has apparently gone through many iterations, in control style, play concept and level design - who knows how the game would have looked had it been released on the GameCube? Yet despite all this upheaval, Rare has delivered a polished little gem, offering probably the broadest appeal of any 360 launch title.
Kameo tells the story of an elf by the name of Kameo (surprise, surprise) who has to rescue her wayward family after an evil Troll called Thorn captures them. Thorn had been in hibernation for quite some time, but when Kameo received her family's transformation magic (allowing her to transform into numerous elemental warriors), her jealous sister Kalus released him. Sisters, eh? Anyway, Kameo must now embark on a quest to not only get her family back, but to stop Thorn and Kalus' evil plans. You see, not only have they captured your family, but they've declared war on the entire kingdom. Kameo decides that the best way to deal with situation is to go on a one-woman full frontal attack of Thorn's castle, which also handily takes the form of the game's training level. Starting off with three of the basic elemental warriors, it does a great job of showing you the game's basics.
In fact, the game is structured around both collecting and using these warriors to fight and navigate throughout the game world. After the initial training level, the first three warriors are stripped away from you, leaving you with the job of rescuing not just them, but twelve warriors in total. As if Kameo didn't have enough problems, you need to defeat shadow trolls, each of whom have captured a warrior and need to be defeated in order to add each warrior to your arsenal. Fortunately, the journey to find these shadow trolls is a feast for the eyes. The game looks absolutely glorious, and is one of the best looking Xbox 360 titles so far. Colour oozes from every corner of the game world and the environments seem alive in a way that hasn't been seen before. In fact, the production values are high across the board. Voice talent is excellent and the music has been tailored to fit in very comfortably with the on-screen action, with a score that is quite stunning at times.
Where the game differs from any other 3D action adventure game is how flexible the main character actually is. Each of the warrior forms presents an entirely new control set and brings unique abilities to the fore. It allows you to be very flexible in how you approach the game, especially when it comes to combat. Indeed, no matter what your playing style, you'll be able to find a warrior to suit it. Certain enemies are also vulnerable to specific warriors and it's great fun playing around to find a method that works - in fact, it's rare that you'll find yourself staying as the same warrior for any great length of time.
The levels are cleverly designed too, allowing progression to certain areas only when you have gained the relevant warrior, sometimes even using a combination of the two. Unfortunately, there aren't nearly enough instances where multiple warriors are needed - which is a shame, as it seemed to be an obvious source for puzzles. More complimentary powers between different warriors would have been nice too, though I guess even games with lengthy development cycles can't include every feature that's thought of. Certain elements, like the game's slow-motion system which kicks in when you string together a sufficiently large combo, also feel out of place and redundant. Though in honesty, these are just niggles - the game still offers some great puzzles and challenges, and the bosses in particular force you to use different warriors very creatively.
And how could I forget - The Badlands. Kameo must travel through The Badlands in order to reach each area, which is currently in the midst of a massive conflict between the trolls and the elves. The Badlands are magnificent and the sense of scale generated from both the environment and combatants is extremely impressive. Indeed, some of the game's most enjoyable challenges take place here, as you are required to help the Elven army defeat some troll tanks, troll battleships or the like. It's tremendous fun and is one of the most creative and interesting 'hub' sections that I've seen in any game of this type. It's such a joy riding about the countryside and joining in one of the huge fights, and never fails to bring a smile to my face.
The game isn't terribly challenging, but by offering quite a few little side quests and missions there's a variety of stuff to sink your teeth into. They're more necessary than side quests in most games, however, as they often provide you with fruit used to upgrade and enhance your warriors. Though, necessity or not, you'll want to play through them all anyway as they're all great fun. Even with these quests, though, the game is quite short, and it often feels like you haven't spent much time with a new elemental warrior before another one turns up. There's still a solid 8-10 hours gameplay here, but it's hard not to feel slightly disappointed when the game comes to an end. The fact that you want more is a good thing, but it could have been so much more epic.
All in all, this is a superb game. It's different, yet comfortably familiar all at the same time and presents you with a wealth of options, while never being difficult to play. It seems to be aimed at a younger audience with its graphical design and humour, but it's good enough to appeal to any age group. It might not be the epic adventure we'd hoped for, but it's damn enjoyable while it lasts and hopefully a sign of Rare's return to form.