Kameo: Elements of Power is beautiful. It’s probably one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen, and certainly the visual highlight of the Xbox 360 launch line-up. It’s the sort of game that, back in the days when people actually cared about 3D action adventures more than today’s me-too first-person shooters and gang games, would have sold 360 systems by the bucketload. But the scary thing about beauty is that it, somehow, stops your brain from working at full speed. Where you should be asking questions – important questions like “Why is this game treating me like a moron?” or “Why does something that’s taken this long to produce still feel so half-finished?” – it’s easy just to sit back and think “ooh, doesn’t it just look gorgeous”.
It’s not the characters that make this game, though they are intricately detailed, superbly animated and typical of Rare’s Nintendo-honed skills in this area. It’s the world they inhabit: one of lovely swaying grass and flowers, verdant trees with fuzzy squirrels racing up them, crystal streams, ponds and rushing waterfalls, gnarled rock faces and frosty mountain paths. It’s a world you want to get lost in; to explore and discover new areas of. There are scenes in a vine-covered temple, mist creeping around the ferns or the floor, or in a fire-lit, water-filled grotto that more clearly demonstrate the power of Microsoft’s new console than anything else I’ve yet seen. If the underlying design matched its beauty, this would be a world on a par with Zelda’s Hyrule or World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. The fact that it doesn’t is practically a tragedy.
You see, Kameo is a triumph of atmospheric presentation. Everything, from the magic book used for the status screens and option menus to the in-game engine cut-scenes lures you further and further into its fairy-tale fantasy world. The music is exceptional, with strong themes that occasionally sweep you off your feet at the very same time as the gameplay is struggling to do so. The audio effects have been lovingly created and sound fantastic in surround sound. It’s a game that desperately wants to blow you away and, in audio-visual terms, effortlessly succeeds.
Yet in every other way, it’s only halfway there.