Generally, when a game looks this good, we get a little suspicious. There’s usually some sort of nasty problem lurking beneath the shiny surface: the game’s too short, the action gets a little herky-jerky during crucial fights or it’s just plain no fun. But don't let Kameo's good looks fool you. The game isn’t without some minor flaws, but they don’t detract from an otherwise excellent action adventure.
Kameo includes all the elements we've come to expect from adventure games: an inexperienced hero, an enemy out to destroy all that's good and right in the world, a dash of familial infighting and hordes of gimpy baddies. But there's more to Kameo than a fairy out to save her family.
Instead of relying on traditional weapons, Kameo - we're talking about the fairy-girl now, not the actual game - transforms into any of ten different elemental warriors, each with unique powers. By "warriors", we actually mean creatures - ranging from an ice-themed ape or a walking Venus flytrap to a living pile of spiky boulders or straight-up dragon. Their powers range from icy blasts or lava bombs or novelty smackdowns, such as the ability to grab a baddie by the head and heave him clear across the game world.
Activating each warrior's powers is as simple as pulling the left and right triggers, but you'll only succeed if you utilize the abilities when they're needed. Boss battles usually require a combination of two or more powers, so you may need to stun a boss with one elemental's attack, then quickly switch and damage it with another.
For instance, you can light Deep Blue's oil attack with Ash's fire breath for a nasty, flaming surprise. Finding the most effective combos is part of the fun of Kameo, so we won't give anything else away. But in addition to helping you climb the online leaderboards, creative combo attacks will help you land a lot of hits in a short amount of time, which is when Focus mode kicks in. That slows down all your enemies, letting you wreak havoc with any of the warriors.
On your quest to rescue your family, you'll visit many different types of environments, everything from magical forests to undersea dungeons. Some areas are best suited to specific elementals, but you'll come back to a few of the characters over and over: Pummel Weed's punching attacks never go out of style and you'll need Chilla's ice spear to solve many puzzles.
Unfortunately, most of the obstacles are designed to require one particular character, so you'll find yourself using some skills, like Chilla's ice climbing, over and over. And sadly, there are some elementals whose powers are underdeveloped or are difficult to use. Snare's grab-and-toss attack sounds cool, but it's difficult to aim and unnecessary in most circumstances.
Here's a nifty visual trick, courtesy of the 360's advanced hardware: by shifting everything outside your immediate area into soft focus, the game draws your attention to the action, while adding a cinematic feel. More impressive, the game can render more characters than we've ever seen on a console before. We're talking thousands of trolls and humans onscreen at once, making this easily the best-looking launch title for the 360.
The single-player game clocks in at a short-but-satisfying 10 hours, but the combat scoring system and the online leaderboards add some replayability to the game's dungeons. Unfortunately, the split-screen co-op multiplayer mode falls flat. Even in widescreen HD, the window is too small to keep up with the action. This could have been a great cooperative experience, if only it was available on Live.
Kameo's a great way to kick the tires on your new system and the best way to show off the 360's visual chops. You might breeze through it, but it'll be a cool breeze.