After playing Rare's flagship game for the Xbox 360, Perfect Dark Zero, my hopes for their other launch title Kameo: Elements of Power were not high. I'm not a fan of platformers—recent cult-fave Psychonauts lost me quick—and this spunky elf-chick game looked like a big ho-hum.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Dungeons & Dragons convention: Kameo turned out to be a fun game. Its basic mechanic is transformation, in which you can switch between 11 characters at will. (Though first you have to collect them Pokémon–style.) Each character has a different set of powers and controls—very different. The snow ape, Chilla, can pick up evil trolls and impale them on his ice-spear back; after collecting a handful of wriggling trolls he can then switch to a targeting view and launch them into the air, either off of cliffs or into other enemies. Major Ruin is a sort of rolling, spiked rhinoceros whom you drive around like a big pinball. Pummel Weed is an angry man-plant who jabs with big veggie fists and delivers a mean uppercut. And so on.
Since each character is so different, switching between them on the fly is not easy—but it sure is fun. One moment the right trigger on the controller is used to throw Pummel Weed's punches; a moment later, the same trigger now freezes Major Ruin in mid-air. The game tests both your physical and mental agility, and it's a welcome challenge.
There's some kind of a silly yet obsessively busy story I couldn't quite decipher. I think Kameo's evil sister got enormous breast implants and decided to take over the world. Or something. I dare you to select the "History" option for any of the characters and not laugh out loud at the earnest explanations of how some elf five centuries ago first discovered Major Ruin in the Dungeon of Calgon where he was employed as a turd. I realize text is cheap but this kind of nonsense makes me hurt.
But beyond the story, the game's visuals are terrific, a combination of Yes album covers and H.R. Pufnstuf. It's elaborately decorated and brightly colored with the kind of excessive details and background business that would have been hard to pull off on older consoles. In the very first level as you battle trolls galore, the skies around you are filled with dozens, maybe hundreds, of dragons, while volcanoes belch out lava and send magmatic meteors crashing into the areas you're playing in. Later you'll ride your horse through a sea of hundreds of trolls, a ludicrously impressive army that exists simply to say "neener-neener-neener" to the Playstation 2 and the Gamecube.
So if you can cope with the elf chick and the rolling ball of poo and all the characters who speak cockney, Kameo could be the game your restless brain is craving. It really is as goofy as it looks. It's also a hell of a lot of fun to play.