Despite the Nintendo Switch’s reputation as a family-friendly console, there are surprisingly few truly kid-oriented games on the platform. And if you exclude licensed games from the discussion, the number drops even further. Currently, apart from some notable titles such as New Super Lucky’s Tale and Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury, there is a distinct lack of kid-friendly, big-budget games. Kukoos: Lost Pets aims to fill that gap in the Switch library by not only creating a game designed primarily for a younger audience, but one that the whole family can enjoy together.
When starting up Kukoos: Lost Pets, the first thing we noticed was how strong the game’s presentation is. In many ways, Kukoos: Lost Pets feels like an episode of a long-lost cartoon show. The overall aesthetic looks like a mix between Fall Guys and Super Monkey Ball, evoking the simple, memorable and instantly recognizable art style. Character designs are goofy and over the top, the environment is full of vibrant and cartoonish colors, and the writing feels like it’s been ripped straight out of 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 unravel the mystery behind these new collars. While simple, the plot fits perfectly with the cartoon premise that the game tries to replicate. And as an added bonus, all key scenes are fully voiced, adding to the overall production value. For a game designed primarily for a younger audience, it’s refreshing to see so much effort put into the way a game for kids looks and feels.
In terms of gameplay, instead of drawing heavily from the Super Mario series of platformers like many kids’ games do, Kukoos instead draws heavily from the recent Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. The game features a mix of corridor-based level segments and 2D side-scrolling levels and constantly changes perspectives to keep the gameplay fresh. What the levels of Kukoos do best is that each level has something unique. On one level you might be caving in a pitch-black cave, while in the next you might be bouncing gummy candies or climbing a futuristic building. Despite some reused level themes, there’s always something unique about the level you’re currently playing.
Each level also has three sets of collectibles for you to find. In addition to four hidden flowers in each level, you also have to defeat a certain number of enemies and collect dozens and 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 being a children’s game, it lacks any major challenge for players with decades of experience.
The biggest highlight of the gameplay is the titular pet mechanic from Kukoos: Lost Pets. Each world revolves around a different pet you 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 fire back at targets. A simple highlight comes from a pet that allows you to create a platform anywhere you can swing (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-esque control scheme. Often you have to press the ‘R’ button to engage their powers before using the ‘ZR’ button to activate their power. The process can feel overly complicated for something that could have easily been linked to a single button.
Originally released as part of Steam’s Early Access program in 2021, the release of Kukoos: Lost Pets 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, new Kukoos to play with, and the ability to swim in the water. These new additions do not change the overall package significantly, but they do enhance what is already a fun adventure. The biggest addition probably comes from the ability to play together with four players. While the game is still fun for one player, it’s an excellent addition to a game aimed at a younger audience if you have the option of having a parent help their kids who may be struggling with a challenge or two.
Although the Nintendo Switch seems like a perfect match for these types of games, this version still has some performance issues. There were numerous times 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, the game’s load times are a serious issue. The game is full of incredibly long loading screens when starting up the game and selecting levels. Most egregious is a 10 to 15 second load time after each death, which can destroy the pace of the game, especially for a less patient younger player who may take a little longer to succeed in the game’s mechanics. It is clear that this version could have been better optimized before release, although it is said that an upcoming day-one patch will fix some technical issues.
Despite some technical issues on the Nintendo Switch, Kukoos: Lost Pets is arguably one of the best games for a younger audience on the platform. In a world where families are a big part of the Nintendo Switch demographic, it’s refreshing to see so much love put into a game designed primarily for kids. 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 family platformer.