Something's really kicked Namco in the keester this year when it's come to Game Boy Advance publishing. The company tested the waters early in the system's life with some really solid entries, but after that the company went into hiding. After taking a break for a couple of years, Namco's really kicked its GBA publishing into high gear, and among the first batch of games out of the company is a sequel to one of its first GBA titles released in 2001. Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament
's been sitting the can for a couple of years now, but the design is so successful and timeless it doesn't feel like an "early generation" GBA game. This sequel doesn't offer a whole lot more than what the company did for the first game in the series, but considering how cool, unique, and fun the original game was, it doesn't hurt the sequel all that much.
Klonoa 2's design is just as established as the original Klonoa: Empire of Dreams released during the GBA system's launch year in 2001. The storyline that ties up the sequel's situation is different, as is the level designs, but overall Klonoa 2 isn't a huge stretch from the original game because the game concept hasn't really changed. It's a whole new set of challenges in extremely familiar -- and fun -- territory.
Everything that makes a Klonoa game is retained in Klonoa 2. If you haven't familiarized yourself with one, you're really doing yourself a disservice; don't let the cutesy looking furry creature scare you away from some of the most challenging and fun platform creations released on the Game Boy Advance. And even though, at first look, Klonoa has that look of being like every other non-Mario platformer on the market, Namco's series has a significantly unique bunch of gameplay mechanics that really make it feel entirely its own style. For example, Klonoa actually picks up and utilizes enemies to double-jump, which means players must figure out where to grab or carry enemies in order to leap up to out-of-reach platforms.
What makes Klonoa such a great game design is its simple concept with a layer of challenge and difficulty that doesn't really make itself known until you've blown through a few of the easy tasks. It's a healthy balance between action/platformer and puzzle game, because each of the game's levels requires a good amount of thought to score all the necessary tokens in order to move onto the next round. Every level is segmented into brief challenges that put Klonoa's basic abilities to use, but it's incredibly clever to see how the designers create levels that can really require players to put on their thinking caps in order to accomplish the specific goal. Some levels even require a little backtracking in previous territory in order to score all the collectibles.
It's clear that Empire of Dreams' engine was employed for Dream Champ Tournament's development, a standard technique to kick out a sequel as quickly and cheaply as possible on the GBA. The sequel's graphics, sound, and gameplay is quite literally a deja vu to folks who have already played through the original. But even though this is first, maybe second generation stuff on the GBA, the graphical and audio elements stand up pretty well more than three years after the release of the original game.
For the sequel, Namco booted out the clever "rotation" levels from the original in favor of a more "ooh neat" 3D-esque mini-game challenge. In these rounds, players move left and right in a behind-the-character perspective, collecting tokens and avoiding enemies as the world zips by in a cool pre-rendered effect. These levels are a nice diversion from the standard side-scrolling challenges, but they're just not as creative as the sub-level designs of the original game where players had to spin the entire world clockwise and counterclockwise to accomplish the tasks.
The game starts out easy but definitely gets pretty tough soon after, but never so much that it's a frustrating ordeal. Level designs have plenty of opportunity for extra lives, and even so players rarely "die" in a standard challenge. Boss battles, on the other hand, are absolutely devious and have that "one more time" flair to them when players fail at the task. They're not the usual "hit three times and die" fare, either; instead, the level designers create something that fits the "Dream Champ Tournament" plot.
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