Kameo: Elements of Power, a colourful, creative action adventure game, is one of the most family-friendly titles among the Xbox 360's starting lineup, but it'll provide a great experience for just about any kind of game player. It's packed with clever and entertaining action, not to mention some of the most highly impressive, razor-sharp graphics you've ever seen, along with terrific music and sound.
There's not much preamble at first, since the game thrusts you straightaway into a fairly challenging battle without bothering with a proper introduction. You play as Kameo, a slender elf princess with fairy wings and the unique ability to transform into a variety of different, unusual creatures. She's single-handedly assaulting an ominous castle occupied by untold numbers of surly trolls and their ugly, presumably smelly industrial contraptions. It turns out that Kameo's wicked sister, Kalus, is apparently in league with the vile troll king, Thorn. Together they've kidnapped Kameo's family and now threaten the Enchanted Kingdom, Kameo's home. So Kameo does what any young lady would do in her place, assuming that young lady could also transform into a yeti, a plant with boxing gloves, and a roly-poly elephant-mole thing at the drop of a hat.
The opening level of Kameo definitely shows off the game's fantastic visuals and audio (made exponentially better if your Xbox 360 is hooked up to a high-definition display and a 5.1 surround-sound system), as well as its distinctive mechanics. Provided you have some experience with other action adventure games, this one's easy to pick up and play, thanks partly to the responsiveness of the Xbox 360's excellent but familiar gamepad and partly to the onscreen prompts that constantly remind you which buttons perform which functions. Controlling the action from a third-person perspective, you can make Kameo run around (or hover around more quickly) using the left analog stick, and you can freely rotate the camera using the right stick. Kameo's attacks and other moves are mapped to the shoulder buttons, while her transformations are mapped to the face buttons.
For instance, she can morph into the pugilistic plant Pummel Weed at the touch of a button, at which point she can execute left and right jabs using the respective triggers. Kameo isn't much of a fighter herself, so she must switch between her different forms to overcome various obstacles and defeat all types of different enemies. Yet despite the relatively simple controls, the early going in Kameo may still be rather confusing, since you aren't given a clear sense of what's happening or how to play. Unless you've played a bunch of Metroid Prime, it'll especially take getting used to controlling the elephant mole guy, Major Ruin, who rolls around like a ball. Luckily, the game's got a built-in help system in the form of a self-important (but generally helpful) talking book that's always there to give you advice about your situation.
Bizarrely enough, once you finish the lengthy introductory mission, you'll find yourself in the Enchanted Kingdom being instructed on the very basics of gameplay--such as how to move around and rotate the camera -- as if you hadn't figured all that out already. It's as if somebody decided at the last minute that the original opening of the game was too bland, so the flashy castle level was tacked on in front of it. Whatever the explanation, between the potentially frustrating first level (which forces you to get comfortable with some of the game's most advanced mechanics in what's quite literally a trial by fire) and the unnecessary and late instructional how-to back at the Kingdom, the first hour or two of Kameo may have you shaking your head. But then the game sets you off on a much more satisfyingly coherent sequence of action, exploration, and puzzle-solving sequences. And soon enough, the false start will be forgotten.
There's a lot of variety in Kameo. When you're in the Enchanted Kingdom, there's no danger. It's just you getting to flit around in a vibrantly detailed storybook world, talking to some goofy characters, finding hidden items, and so forth. The richly detailed gameworld rewards exploration to a certain extent, since you can find helpful items and other little secrets by straying from the beaten path. However, even though the gameworld consists of big, fairly open-ended areas, it isn't difficult to tell where you're supposed to go next thanks to the presence of a minimap, in many cases.
When you're traveling across the Badlands, the biggest area in the game, there's a full-on epic feel as you gallop on horseback amid ranks of literally thousands of warring elf and troll warriors. The Badlands sequences prove to make for some exciting interludes, as it's here that the troll armies are attempting to take down the shields protecting the Enchanted Kingdom. Meanwhile, you'll be called in to aid the defense. Massive troll artillery pieces and the huge scale of the conflict combine to make for a sharp contrast to the solo action adventure sequences that the game mostly consists of.
You'll also find some well designed puzzle-oriented adventure sequences as you search for additional creature forms. Each one is held captive by a shadow troll, a scary-looking creature that resides in a hidden lair of some sort. The shadow troll battles are all pretty much alike. They're progressively more challenging each in turn, but the battles are introduced the same way each time, and you'll use the same tactics to beat every one of these fiends, making for a sense of déjà vu after a while. Nevertheless, these showdowns are exciting if only because you'll always look forward to getting new creature forms in Kameo, since each one is distinctively different and has plenty of personality. As for the shadow trolls, just getting to face off against these guys can be a challenge, since their bat-infested domain tends to be closed off to the casual traveler. You'll need to make careful use of your available creature forms' abilities to find access to the shadow realm -- so you can then proceed with the rescue.
On top of that, the action sequences tend to culminate in combat against a big, nasty boss opponent of some sort. Beating these is trickier than it is difficult, but the bosses themselves are so neat to see in action, and the music tends to be so frantic, that these fights serve as some of the best parts of the game. In all, the action sequences of Kameo make up more than half the game, but the other types of gameplay surrounding them meld together seamlessly, making for an adventure that feels refreshingly diverse. You're never stuck doing the same type of thing for more than a few minutes at a time before the game pushes you on to the next in a series of entertaining sequences.
Sadly, the adventure is over too soon -- after maybe just eight-or-so hours of gameplay. There's some more for you to see and do after you've finished the main quest, but the main quest feels like it really could have benefited from at least a couple more action levels, since you really don't get much chance to use all the creature forms to their fullest potentials. By the time you've got all 10 forms, or most of them, the gameplay potential is really tremendous, since you're free to switch forms at any time -- and it's easy to do so. The game comes up with some really inventive ways for you to combine the various creatures' abilities, but you'll probably be left wishing for more.
There's a two-player split-screen cooperative mode in Kameo, but it's not substantial. It simply plops two players instead of one into the game's various action sequences, without so much as bothering to distinguish between who's who (you're both Kameo-- same outfit and everything). These levels were clearly designed with the solo adventure primarily in mind, so they don't present any significant challenges suitable for two players.
The game's gorgeous, beautifully detailed visuals really are a pleasure to take in. While Kameo herself looks rather generic, with her anime doe eyes and her plain black tresses, the other characters she'll encounter and the environments she'll explore look marvellous. The environments run the predictable storybook gamut of everything from meadows to ominous caverns to frigid mountains, but all of it is beautifully stylised, filled with lots of little visual flourishes, and just plain great-looking. And it all looks markedly impressive on a standard television. But again, as will likely be the case with most any Xbox 360 game, you really need to see Kameo: Elements of Power running on a 720p high-definition display to truly appreciate its visuals.
The only disappointing thing about Kameo: Elements of Power is that it doesn't last longer. It doesn't necessarily feel short, since it's jam-packed with things to see and do, and it keeps throwing new experiences at you from start to finish. But since the combat is mostly pretty easy, and since the puzzle solutions are always right there (courtesy of your talking hint book), you should be able to blow through Kameo pretty quickly, at which point the bonus extras and score challenges probably won't keep you busy for too much longer. Nevertheless, Kameo is absolutely a great game for as long as it lasts, and it's made even better thanks to its state-of-the-art presentation, made possible by the Xbox 360's sheer muscle.
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