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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Xbox 360
November 22, 2005

 Written by Glenn Wigmore  on November 30, 2005

Review: Combine one part Zelda, one part Banjo Kazooie, and one part Lord of the Rings? what do you get? A great game.

MS's next-gen system has finally arrived and with it has come Rare's long-awaited fantasy platformer, Kameo: Elements of Power. Kameo has moved from one console to another more times than anyone cares to remember, but it now gets a chance to strut its stuff in front of eager Xbox 360 purchasers. Will the game implore those that don't have a system to run out and buy one? Not necessarily, but it definitely stands on its own as an extremely strong adventure title that unites technical skill, interesting gameplay, and light-hearted fun.

The general premise in Kameo has you, as the titular elvish female, traversing a fantasy world in search of lost elemental warriors who you need in order to confront a giant troll named Thorne. At the start of the game (an interactive prologue, of sorts), the dynamic of elves versus trolls is established, as Kameo's ancestors, at one time, harnessed the technical prowess of the trolls in order to benefit the Enchanted Kingdom. However, years of servitude have disenfranchised the trolls and they, led by Thorne and Kameo's turncoat sister, Kalus, are attempting to overthrow the elvish hierarchy. Effectively, Kameo will have two different struggles within the game: the challenge of finding all of the elemental spirits in order to confront Thorne, and the task of assisting the elvish forces with their conflict against the troll army.

The elemental spirits are not just something that you collect and then forget about ? on the contrary. Each spirit is a key part of Kameo's abilities, as they allow her to transform into creatures that provide her with new skills. The elements represented within the game include ice, fire, water, earth, and plant (a bit strange, but go with it). Each element has two spirits/forms associated with it, and each of those spirits will serve Kameo well in solving the game's puzzles and dealing with the onslaught of troll adversaries. What's so inspired about these elemental characters is that they not only provide an original twist on the ?skill upgrade? convention in platformer/adventure games, but the characters also manage to interact with the environment so fluidly and interestingly. All of the characters feature a set of moves useful for dispatching trolls (and these skills get upgraded throughout the game), and the way in which the moves affect the trolls is truly part of the fun. For instance, Rubble, a rocky character that is made up of a pile of stones, pummels his adversaries with spiky rocks that stick into their bodies and bowl them over. His straightforward approach differs from that of Chilla, a large Yeti who can put trolls onto his spiky back and use them as javelin-esque projectiles. One of the most powerful characters (who you get very late in the game) is Thermite, a fire ant that has a molten shell on his back that can deal all sorts of fire-related damage. His mortars and fire projectiles can completely burn up the opposition in no time.

Some characters aren't as useful at combat, but they will be integral for the platforming and puzzle aspects of the game. Flex, for example, lacks the pizzazz to really affect the stronger armor-clad trolls faced later in the game, but he is very useful for some of the game's mountain-climbing sequences, as he can latch onto Venus flytrap plants in order to bring Kameo to greater heights. Just the same, Major Ruin, a shelled armadillo who can do Metroid-like spins, is required for many of the ramps encountered in the game, and he is often used in unison with other elementals to complete a task. An example of this combined elemental action can be found in the Snow Temple (a stage in the middle of the game), as Kameo will have to morph into Major Ruin and take a jump off of a ramp into an icy wall and then quickly change into Chilla so that he can hang on with his icicle climbing spikes, thus avoiding certain doom.

This cooperation of elementals comes into great use during the boss encounters within the game, as well. At a minimum, you will need to use two elementals in order to beat any given boss, and sometimes more characters are needed or they at least provide alternatives for certain strategies. One of the game's early bosses ? a giant demon-tree who has several different attacks ? requires the use of Pummelweed, a pugilist plant with razor-tipped leaves, in order to launch shells at the tree after it misses an attack, and then Rubble must then take aim with his rocks in order to give the tree some indigestion. None of the game's bosses are insanely difficult, but most of them are memorable encounters, nonetheless.

A great deal of credit for what makes the game work has to be given to the elemental characters and how each and every one interacts with the game world. They are truly unique characters who all fight and move differently, but some are definitely ?stock? choices in terms of design. Even if some characters do strike you as a bit formulaic, the fact that trolls you fight get cut, burnt, frozen, pushed, pulled, bashed, smashed and pummeled depending on who you are using is satisfying, to say the least. The animation of each character really brings the whole experience to life, and you can encounter this during some of the more frenzied battles. You will find yourself switching between elementals to deal with various baddies (who all look and animate very well, I might add) many times, and these moments really show off how diverse and interesting each character is to fight with.

Of course, all of this elemental action doesn't mean that Kameo herself is not useful. Much of the game will be spent playing as Kameo, and her standard elvish form is actually pretty useful for many of the trickier sequences that require quick and nimble movement, like the boss battles. It won't be uncommon to find yourself using her as a ?bridge? to other elementals, as she'll be quite adept at outrunning an attack ? thanks to her ?hovering? ability (she's got wings) ? which leads you into a transformation to someone more appropriate for taking out the trolls, boss, or whatever.

Some of the most memorable sequences in the game will come with Kameo riding on horseback through the Badlands. The Badlands is an area that links all of the temples within the world, and you will transport there from the Enchanted Kingdom (which hovers above all in a protective magical shield). The troll armies are fighting all throughout the Badlands, and you will see a growing number of them fighting with the elves during your quest. These sequences immediately call to mind the Lord of the Rings, as the sheer number of units on screen is quite astounding (thousands is not an overstatement). Since the battle grows throughout the game, you'll eventually see giant ogres and war machines dealing damage to the elvish ranks, plus dragons up above who are firebombing the area. The great aspect of these battles is that you can get as involved as you like, which allows you to traverse to various conflicts and help out at your leisure. Some sequences will require you to stop by an area and help defend a shrine or help turn the tide in a battle, but the most fun comes from just tearing through trolls (and your own elves? sorry!) on your horse. You'll see trolls and elves go flying, and with all of the other battling going on, this stuff just looks plain spectacular. Getting off your horse and battling the trolls is also fun (you can use your elementals here, as well?. target practice), but you might lose your ride, as the troll AI likes to jump on the unattended animal and take it away. Never fear, though, as your horse will always reappear at some point when you've left the Badlands for a while.

And leaving the Badlands is something you will do a great deal, as the various groves, cities, and temples that you will explore are all located around the landscape (much like in Zelda games). Within these environments are usually several shadow trolls, who are the evil guys holding your elemental buddies. Once you follow them through an area long enough, you'll find the cave where they like to hide. You'll have to fight these guys to get most of your elementals back, but they aren't too difficult. The best part about fighting shadow trolls is the spectacular graphical effects going on in the Shadow World, as it looks like a mix of the ?ring world? in Lord of the Rings, the dream sequences in Beyond Good and Evil, and the spirit world in Ninja Gaiden -- pretty crazy stuff.

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