Kukoos: Lost Pets

Publisher Modus is having an extremely ambitious year. Not only did they attempt to revive the PS2-era style of hack-‘n-slash games with the enormous and lofty Soulstice (developed by Reply Game Studios), but before the year is up, they intend to steal a little bit of Mario’s pie with Kukoos: Lost Pets. And this is happening in a year when there’s actually a pretty decent 3D Sonic game out. This is a risky proposition. But since there’s not been a new 3D Mario game since Super Mario Odyssey back in 2017, unless you count the criminally short Bowser’s Fury (which was more of an add-on than a new game), maybe the landscape is ripe for a Mario-style 3D platformer.

Kukoos: Lost Pets (by developer Petit Fabrik) is a charming 3D platformer in the vein of Super Mario 3D World. By this I mean that it’s a 3D platformer that’s largely on rails. Yes, you can walk toward and away from the camera, but stage layouts are generally designed to funnel you in one particular direction along narrow paths rather than giving you the freedom to explore a full 3D world.

Admittedly, this lack of freedom does feel a little disappointing, especially coming hot off of Sonic Frontiers, which was hugely explorable. I do prefer more open-style 3D platformers to these linear ones — the exception being Crash Bandicoot, but Crash relies on some mad-genius-level stage design that prevents their linearity from being a dealbreaker. Plus, I just have a ton of nostalgia for Crash.

Kukoos: Lost Pets

But Kukoos: Lost Pets feels comfortable in its lane, and I can’t really fault it for not attempting to satisfy my particular tastes. I’m far from the only person playing these games, after all.

Admittedly, the game starts off extremely slow. Like, pouring-concrete-into-your-boots slow. For the first hour, I found myself frustratedly mashing buttons to skip the absurdly long story sequences — most of which could have been summed up in a sentence or two. And in the tutorial section, the game relentlessly hammers its mechanics into your head. Seriously, when I first started playing, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this one.

But if you can get through the way-too-long story and tutorial sequences, the game suddenly becomes very enjoyable. A huge part of this is that it’s constantly introducing clever new elements that are genuinely fun to play around with.

Kukoos: Lost Pets

The Apocalypticoach world, for example, introduces train rides and a platform that you carry around with you and can swing from to reach high-up places and cross wide chasms. Once I figured out the swing mechanic, I had a ton of fun with this. There’s also a Roomba that you can ride on to turn garbage bags into coins, and one stage where you have to ascend a building via a maze of revolving doors.

And it keeps on going. The World War Twee world lets you get inside a tire and roll down a half-pipe like Sonic the Hedgehog in Sonic 2. And in the Haunted Pirate Pizzeria world, you get to transform into a pirate ghost that can float on the wind and move through some solid objects. You also have cauldrons of glue you can dunk yourself in to stick to walls, and you can even steer a pirate ship at one point. The game is constantly throwing new toys at you and letting you play with them.

But it’s not all gravy. As I mentioned earlier, the beginning section is almost unbearably slow. Further, you’re going to do a lot of fighting against the camera. Every year, I hope we’ve seen the end of the camera struggle, and every year, at least one or two games come out to prove me wrong. Kukoos is one of those games in 2022.

Kukoos: Lost Pets

There are also some weird text issues, like the “CHARACTER NAME” text in the image above. And the last few levels use lack of checkpoints as a crutch to ramp up the difficulty, which is odd because most of the game has checkpoints to spare. In fact, one of the final levels is this absolutely brilliant climb inside a mechanical frog that’s swaying back and forth, but there’s not a single checkpoint in the entire level. It went from incredibly thrilling to teeth-gnashingly tedious really fast. Thankfully, the level is pretty short, but there’s one section where you have to make several tricky jumps in a row, and it would have been so much more manageable if there were a checkpoint in front of it.

Also, this is neither here nor there, but there’s an enemy type that marches toward you going, “Yep, yep, yep, yep,” and they’re called coaches for some reason. I can’t help but point out that Petit Fabrik missed out on a golden opportunity by not calling them “yep men.” But I digress…

In the end Kukoos: Lost Pets does exactly what it sets out to do. It offers a 3D platformer in the style of Super Mario 3D World, and it keeps things fresh throughout its fairly short runtime by relentlessly throwing good ideas at you. Yes, it’s rough around the edges, but if you can get past its flaws, you’ll find something that’s surprisingly enjoyable. If you have a hunger for 3D platformers, Kukoos is a nice little appetizer to tide you over until the next huge-budget release from the Big N.

Disclaimer: I was given a review code for Kukoos: Lost Pets for PS4 — which I played on PS5 — but the opinions expressed in this article are my own.

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