Arcade Archives: Kangaroo (Review)

This week, I’ve looked at the maze chase. I’ve looked at the gallery shooter. I looked at.. whatever the hell Journey was aiming for. But, what about the Donkey Kong-like platformer? How about Kangaroo? It was released in 2020 as part of the Arcade Archives lineup too, so no need to dip into MAME this time. Believe it or not, Kangaroo was not some kind of historical curio. Despite being made by Sun Electronics, who would go on to be Sunsoft, maker of Blaster Master and the NES Batman, Kangaroo was distributed in America by Atari. Thus, a lot of people think of this as an Atari game, and one that could have gone into my Games They Couldn’t Use feature. Indeed, you’ll be seeing Kangaroo for the Atari 2600 and 5200 in part two of that very series. It was a moderate hit for Atari, and in fact did well enough that it was even adapted into an animated short as part of the legendary Saturday Supercade cartoon block. But, as an Arcade Archives release, Kangaroo deserves its own look. While I’m grateful that Hamster released this as a solo-effort, holy smokes, this is a terrible game. Anyone who thinks I’ve gone too easy on the retro games this week, just wait. I’m going to have a Kangaroo burger here.

Literally the only stage that works without MUCH of a hitch, and it couldn’t be more bland, basic, and boring.

I’ve nicknamed Kangaroo “Sloppy Joey” because that’s how Kangaroo feels. Like a game that wanted to ride coattails, but was made by people who had no clue what they were doing. Kangaroo is made-up of three levels where the object is to climb to the top of the stage to reach your joey, and one level where you can bring the joey to you. It wants to be Donkey Kong so bad it can taste it (what does Donkey Kong taste like? The answer is “chicken” because most everything tastes like chicken, which is why you should NEVER TRUST THE CHICKEN!) but it didn’t seem to understand how to do any of the things Donkey Kong did in terms of movement or level design. I’ll start with the movement, where jumping is mapped to UP but so is climbing ladders. It makes jumping over gaps a pain in the butt. If you fall or jump down even an inch, you die.. in some parts. In other parts you still can’t fall even a single pixel length, but you can jump down to a lower ledge. There’s no consistency except anytime you step off a ledge, you die. Even if the ledge is literally the size of your foot. At that point, it isn’t a ledge, is it? It’s a step, right? But it kills you like you just fell off the Grand Canyon. In general, the movement just feels sluggish and unresponsive. The best thing I can say about it is it’s not as bad the level design, which very much incorporates that death-by-gravity inconsistency.

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The stages of Kangaroo are some the most bizarrely constructed I’ve ever seen. They’re so weird. After a conservative first stage, the second stage begins with having to hop-up a series of uneven platforms, and this is where the game’s biggest flaw reveals itself: the rules are inconsistent. When you ring a bell, it spawns more fruit, though most of it is below you, and you will die if you even attempt to jump lower once you ring the bell in level two. The fruit DOES carry over if you lose a life, but actually going to retrieve it is apparently not possible. I tried it, and if there’s a spot where it’s safe to do it, I couldn’t find it. Normally I’d check YouTube clips to see if I’m missing something but then I was like.. why would they make it so the fruit respawns below you anyway? Wouldn’t it make sense to have the bell on the first floor, with some kind of extra risk element blocking it, and put players at a choice? See what I mean about how this makes no sense? I imagine even in 1982 or 1983 that risk/reward design was a known thing, right? Which again makes this feel like a game by people who were just sticking things on a screen and crossing their fingers that they could reach the goal, sort of like me when I make a Mario Maker level. I did make a good faith effort to try to go lower and get the fruits, but the moment I went any bit lower than the platform I was on, I went into the death animation. BUT, then you get to level four, and there’s a series of ladders and gaps, and sometimes you do have to jump to a lower platform, which is now safe to do. Just what everyone wants from a video game: one that changes the rules as you go along.

Specifically it’s the spot by the broken ladder in the right-center of the screen. You can jump down to the platform left of it. The same drop, even off a jump, will kill you in level two. Kangaroo plays Calvinball. It just makes up the rules as it goes along.

Nothing goes right in Kangaroo. I’ve had moments where I punched an enemy that wasn’t even in its throwing animation and we both died. The collision is bad, especially on the third stage. It wanted SO DESPERATELY to be the non-conventional Rivet Stage in Donkey Kong type of twist. In it, there’s a stack of monkeys holding the platform that the joey is on and you can punch the monkeys out from the stack to keep lowering the platform. You’ll be dodging apple cores dropped from above or thrown at you from the side this whole time, and other monkeys will come and try to join the stack or push back. It takes several punches to successfully dislodge a monkey, but if you’re not lined up right, you’ll punch right through them. Even though logically it should still be a punch. While alone it wouldn’t be a deal breaker, Kangaroo is a series of little annoyances that add up to one hugely crappy game. Like, you jump high enough that you’re clearly above platforms and should land on them, but you don’t. You go through them unless you jump on them from the correct platform. What was even the point of being a kangaroo then?

Also why is THIS the third stage when it has a climatic feel to it? It should have been fourth. It’s like they wanted to make a Donkey Kong-like game without taking any time or effort to figure out why Donkey Kong worked.

Sloppy Joey is ugly. It’s glitchy. It flickers like an Atari 2600 game, which is especially off-putting for an arcade game. It controls like crap. It has illogical design and scoring, especially with how the bell works. It’s also a game that defies challenging for high scores because you’re at the mercy of dumb luck. There’s a giant ape that shows up to box you and, if it scores a punch, you lose your boxing glove. But, it appears seemingly at random. I’ve had multiple instances where I’d go several games without seeing it once. Of course, it yields a high score if you punch it first. Like all Arcade Archives games, the main reason to own this would be to compete on online leaderboards. My high score was the only one in over a dozen attempts that had the great ape appear. So the one element that would make this engaging in 2023 is based on pure random chance. Most annoying: it has legitimate charm that makes you want to like it. Little touches like how, a second after you duck, the kangaroo pops its head up as if to peek and see if the coast is clear. I mean, come on! That’s adorable. And it pisses me off even more because instead of refining gameplay, they wasted their time and energy on crap like that. Of course, that little extra detail is probably what scored this a spot on Saturday Supercade. Fun fact: despite Atari’s status as the undisputed kings of video games during that show’s run, Kangaroo was the only Atari-published game to be part of Saturday Supercade’s lineup. What, they couldn’t come up with Missile Command cartoon? Which, going off how the rest of Saturday Supercade “adapted” video games (such as Q*Bert being basically Happy Days or Grease), Missile Command would probably be set during the Great Depression and be about sentient missiles running a news stand. Well.. okay, I’d totally watch that.

Kangaroo is not Chick-Approved

Kangaroo was developed by Sun Electronics
Point of Sale: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation

$7.99 got pounced in the making of this review.

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