Despite the Nintendo Switch’s reputation for being a family-friendly console, the number of truly kid-focused games on the platform are surprisingly few and far between. And if you take licensed games out of the discussion, the number drops even more. At the moment, outside of some notable titles like New Super Lucky’s Tale and Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, there is a distinct lack of big-budget kid-friendly games. Kukoos: Lost Pets aims to fill the gap in the Switch library by creating not only a game designed primarily for a younger audience, but one that can be enjoyed by the whole family together.
When we started up Kukoos: Lost Pets, the first thing that struck us was how strong the presentation of the game is. In many ways, Kukoos: Lost Pets feels like an episode of a long-lost cartoon show. The overall aesthetic looks like a cross between Fall Guys and Super Monkey Ball, evoking the simple, memorable and instantly recognizable art style. The character designs are crazy and exaggerated, the environment is full of vibrant and cartoony colors, and the writing feels like it was ripped straight from a Saturday morning cartoon.
Even the plot is equally cartoonish. One day, after the residents of an island give their pets brand new collars to enhance their special abilities, all the pets go rogue and start terrorizing the residents. Your job is to save all the residents’ pets and find out the mystery behind these new collars. Although simple, the plot perfectly fits the cartoon premise the game aims to recreate. And as an added bonus, all of the major scenes are completely voice acted, adding to the overall production value. For a game primarily designed for a younger demographic, it’s refreshing to see so much effort put into the way a kid’s game looks and feels.
In terms of gameplay, instead of drawing heavily from the Super Mario series of platformers as many children’s games do, Kukoos instead draws heavily from the recent Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. The game features a mix of walking-based level segments and 2D side-scrolling levels and constantly shifts perspectives to keep the gameplay fresh. What Kukoos’ levels succeed in at best is that each level has something completely unique about it. On one level you might be splashing around in a pitch-black cave, while on the next you’re bouncing off gummy candies or climbing a futuristic building. Despite some recycled level themes, there’s always something unique about the stage you’re currently playing.
Each level also has three sets of collectibles for you to find. In addition to four flowers hidden in each level, you are also tasked with defeating a certain number of enemies and collecting dozens upon dozens of coins before reaching the goal. This adds some welcome replayability to a game that is unfortunately very short. An experienced player can complete the game in just under three hours, and as a children’s game, it lacks any significant challenge for those with decades of experience.
The game’s biggest standout is Kukoos: Lost Pets’ titular pet mechanic. Each world is centered around a different pet that you will encounter on your journey. Some pets can help illuminate dark caves and activate light-based switches, while others can act as a magnet to absorb enemy projectiles and shoot them back at targets. A simple highlight comes from a pet that allows you to create a platform anywhere you can swing across (much like a certain web-based superhero).
As good as these pets are at keeping gameplay fresh, the controls for using them are a little less intuitive than the rest of the game’s Fall Guys-like control scheme. Often you have to press the ‘R’ button to “turn on” the power before using the ‘ZR’ button to activate the power. The process can feel too complex for something that could easily be tied to a single button.
Originally released as part of Steam’s Early Access program in 2021, Kukoos: Lost Pets’ release on Switch marks the game’s first full release. As such, this version has several new features that previous builds lacked. This includes some new levels, improved difficulty with rebalancing, new Kukoos to play as, and the ability to swim in the water. These new additions don’t significantly change the overall package, but enhance what is already a fun adventure. Arguably the biggest addition comes from the ability to play with four players in co-op. While the game is still fun for single players, the ability to let a parent help out their kids who may be struggling with a challenge or two is an excellent addition to a game aimed at a younger audience.
Despite the fact that the Nintendo Switch seems like a perfect match for this type of game, this version suffers from some performance issues. There were several occasions where the frame rate dropped, blurry textures, and issues with enemy and boss behavior didn’t work as intended. While these issues are certainly not a deal breaker, a serious issue is the game’s load times. The game is filled with incredibly long loading screens when you start the game and select levels. Most extreme is a 10 to 15 second loading time after each death, which can ruin the pace of the game, especially for a less patient younger player who may take a little longer to succeed with the game’s mechanics. It’s clear that this version could have been optimized better before release, although an upcoming day-one update is said to fix some technical issues.
Despite some technical issues on the Nintendo Switch, Kukoos: Lost Pets may still be one of the best games for younger audiences on the platform. In a world where families make up a large part of the Nintendo Switch demographic, it’s refreshing to see such love poured into a game designed primarily for children. From the creative and unique level designs to the Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic, this game is an enjoyable time from start to finish and comes with a recommendation for anyone looking for a charming platformer for the whole family.