Charming and original, but falls short of being great
First impressions are everything, and Kameo fails miserably in this regard. The game throws you right into the first mission without any tutorial or instruction of any kind. Through the use of on-screen hints one is gradually able to figure out what the hell to do, but it's definitely an unpleasant experience to fudge your way through a surprisingly difficult first level. I was only five minutes into the game and I already wanted to turn it off. Needless to say, my opinion of Kameo at this point was not very high. After this surprisingly jarring opening sequence, the game decides to teach you the basic controls of the game, like how to operate the camera and get your character to jump. It sure would have been nice to learn all of that before fighting a giant boss.
Now that I have emulated Kameo's in medias res way of introducing the player to the game with my first paragraph, let me back up for a second and explain a little bit of the history of Kameo. The game was originally developed by Rare for the Nintendo GameCube, but the game became riddled with problems and delays and was therefore in a state of limbo when the company was bought by Microsoft. Kameo then changed platforms to the original Xbox, but once again was delayed. At some point during this development hell, it was decided that the game should instead be a flagship IP for Microsoft's new console, the Xbox 360. Thus a game that had been in development for over 4 years ended up being the first game released for the 360.
My experience with the game improved drastically after I finished the opening level and was brought to the "hub" of Kameo's world, where the story of the game is explained. It's nothing that you haven't seen before; evil sibling imprisons family, evil sibling tries to take over the world, good sibling has to save the day. There's no plot twists in the game, and it's fairly easy to predict what's going to happen next at all times. However, the game has an incredibly colorful and relaxing art style that gives it a distinct visual flair. The game's worlds are surprisingly fun to explore, and the graphics still hold up to this day. Accompanying the beautiful visuals is an orchestral score that contributes to the game's unique style. The game really has a charming look, and it's truly one of the strongest aspects of the game.
This leads to one of the game's most fatal problems - it is way too short. I managed to complete the game in under 7 hours. There were some optional side quests that I skipped, but there weren't too many of these side quests and the rewards they gave were not that interesting to me. I felt like after those seven hours I had gotten out of the game all that I wanted. It's almost shocking how short the game is, considering how long it was in development. There are a few other modes, such as a score attack mode and levels that can be played in co-op, but they feel a little tacked on and are definitely secondary to the main story. Besides from being short, the game is also extremely easy. Throughout the game you will be accompanied by a talking book that will constantly give you advice, and flat out tell you how to solve the game's puzzles the second you show any signs of being stuck. While it keeps the game moving, it also removes essentially any of the game's challenge and it feels like your hand is being held the entire game. I would have liked to seen some more end-game levels that would have required you to solve puzzles for yourself and use some of the under represented creatures in a greater capacity.
Despite these failings, and occasional clunkiness in the controls, the gameplay still is quite fun. The puzzle/platforming stages are interspersed among several levels that will occur in the "Badlands", an area of the world that is in constant warfare. These more action orientated sections give the player a nice change of pace, and succeed in feeling sufficiently epic in scope. The game's bosses are also quite fun to battle. They are perhaps the one challenging part of the game, and do require some skill, patience, and some occasional luck to beat.
Kameo is a hard game to rate. On one hand, I had a great time exploring the charming and colorful world and controlling the eclectic mix of creatures. It's truly a unique experience that I think many gamers would enjoy. However, the game's brevity, linearity, and lack of replay value significantly hurt the overall package. If you're looking for a bargain bin game that that can be beaten in a weekend but is still very enjoyable then Kameo may be a perfect choice for you. Otherwise, it's a bit hard to recommend. Apparently Rare was developing a sequel to Kameo, but Microsoft canned it due to poor sales of the first game. I find this quite disappointing, as I think this game definitely had a potential that could have expanded upon into a great sequel. Unfortunately, we instead can only ponder what could have been.