For hardcore gamers that were frequenting Sony's PSX back in 1997 an unexpected hero emerged from the rush of unneeded, "We swear we can be Mario/Sonic good!" attempts. While franchises were coming and going during the dawn of a new console competitor, one unexpected little game hit shelves and stuck with a serious cult following that would keep it alive for years after, though the franchise would go through unexpected turns during its fade into the history books. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile used all the power of the PSX to render out full 3D worlds to take in, while the gameplay itself ran on a 2D track. All the characters, enemies, and items were a mix of sprite and model work, making for a unique and psychedelic experience that helped Klonoa stand the test of time… for a bit. A few sequels later – including a final stint of two games on GBA here in the states – and Klonoa is now seeing a rebirth on Wii.
After 12 years since the original though, is the series really worth bringing back to life?
As far as I'm concerned, yes, it very much is. Fans that played the original Klonoa won't be finding much to sink their teeth into with the remake of Door to Phantomile on Wii – now simply titled "Klonoa" – and while the game's core content is certainly showing some age, Namco picked the right system to bring this one back to life on, as the game's "new take" on 2D platforming is prepped to reintroduce itself to a whole new type of gamer.
First off, I wouldn't normally call Klonoa a "starter platformer" for younger gamers or newbies to videogames in general, but in this case it totally works. For those that don't know the main controls, Klonoa is a simple, digitally controlled (no need for an analog stick, though every controller available to Wii is supported, including GameCube pad) platformer with one main hook. As the young hero runs around through nightmare-infected dream worlds he has the power hop gaps, trigger switches and collect items with a magic ring, and hold mid-air jumps for a short flap of his… uh… ear things… for an added hover and slight height increase. Where the game really gets going, however, is in the ability to grab enemies and use them either as projectiles into the foreground, background, or left and right, and additionally to gain extra height. If holding a baddie over his head, Klonoa can jump a second time, tossing the enemy to the ground and getting an extra vertical boost in the process. From there, the puzzle platforming begins.
Fans that got into the two GBA titles back in the mid-2000's found some seriously engaging puzzling to be had. Klonoa isn't that tough by any means. Instead, the game takes a chance to introduce players to the main mechanics and characters, giving off first-ever voice acting (that's a bit "kidified") to follow the game's main story. All the same heroes and villains from the original make a return, including the somewhat annoying Huepow, which is a floating blue sphere that follows Klonoa around everywhere, but it's a well-rounded story that does a fine job of pushing from location to location. Really, Klonoa's first adventure follows a very Wizard of Oz structure, with the hero going from place to place meeting new supporting cast members, fending off baddies over and over, and gaining the support of the land as he battles a common foe. Pretty standard, and an obvious move for a series that later brings back most of its characters time and time again.
As I mentioned earlier the platforming isn't the most difficult stuff on the system, but it does have a bit of a learning curve if you've never played a Klonoa game before; which most people haven't these days. The use of 2D is almost entirely gone now, but the 2D/3D hybrid platforming is certainly retained, as this game is essentially an enemy for enemy, block for block recreation of the original, minus a few tiny tweaks that only the hardcore would even notice. It's refreshing to see the camera dipping, swerving and panning around as you run through the world, and the added visuals make for a beautiful recreation of the game that started it all.
At times I wish there was more ambient action going on – falling leaves in forest areas, maybe a heat filter in the fire zones – but all in all it has a pretty clean look that trounces the PS2 sequel. The game runs in 60 frames per second, and it all feels very slick. With that being said, stacking it up against another release today, New Play Control: DK Jungle Beat, will show that even a few top-notch Cube Wii-makes can still rival it. Klonoa looks better than most, but is far from a system-topper visually. Luckily this series is all about gameplay, and Klonoa delivers.
A word to the wise with this one. While it's only $30 – great move by Namco, by the way – it's also noticeably short, and doesn't offer a whole lot of extended value beyond the first playthrough. A trek through the game will take around three to five hours for most players, complete with bosses that may have been innovative for the time, but are pretty "ho hum" now days. It's still great to see them return in 3D, and if younger players are tackling them for the first time you'll need to die and retry, but when the whole "give the controller to dad" mentality sets in, each of the bosses become a one-idea "beat and repeat" formula that's pretty simple. There isn't a second of Klonoa that isn't fun, but it can be a bit easy at times. Beating the game will unlock a new mirror mode with a few additional puzzles to be had, and a time trial mode is also unlocked – Klonoa speed runs can be found on YouTube, so there's a following for it – and purists that want to find every villager and unlockable throughout the main trek will need to dive back into their saved game and explore every nook and cranny to do it.
So yeah, it could be a longer, more difficult game for us hardcore gamers, but let's be real here. It's $30, it's a reintroduction to an awesome series, support could mean new sequels, platformers are few and far between, and this is an awesome one. It's got my money, and I personally hope the franchise takes off with new life on Wii. It still feels great.
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