Review: Klonoa

In a time where non-human heroes were a commonplace thing, a long eared catrabbit carved a small niche into the hearts of gamers. Klonoa was never the world’s most famous anthropomorphic videogame hero, but he is one whose games garnered a cult-like following. Now he’s back to try and take the world by storm via the Nintendo Wii, but not through a new, completely 3D adventure; Klonoa is a remake of the first game of the series, a wonderful 2.5D platformer that was released for the Playstation in 1997.

There aren’t many games released in 1997 that still hold up well today, and fewer that would fare well after the waggly makeover that the Wii is so infamous for. To find out how Klonoa turned out with these unfavorable measures going against it, Jonathan Holmes (the newcomer) and I (the veteran Klonoa fan) examined the game thoroughly. Hit the jump to read our findings.

Klonoa (Wii)
Developer: Paon
Publisher: Namco Bandai Games
Released: May 5, 2009

MSRP: $29.99

Ashley Davis

If you’ve played a 2.5D platformer before, you pretty much know what Klonoa entails. But the game does these same old things in a way that is slightly offbeat, making it feel like a much different experience than most other videogames of its kind. It is very reminiscent of platformers with odd mechanics like Mischief Makers, which we haven’t seen much of since the 64-bit era that it and the original Klonoa: Door to Phantomile were a part of.

Your character, the titular Klonoa of the Wind, has a simple attack that puffs up his enemies. You are then free to carry them around to throw at other enemies, at switches, or down to help you make a double jump. Because the environment is 2.5D, Klonoa can throw his cargo in all directions; not only in front of or behind him on the plane which he stands, but also into the foreground or background. One pleasant little surprise about this Wii remake is that there are no needless tacked-on motion controls to speak of. The controls are very straightforward, with only one instance of waggle that you will most likely never use; a shake of the Wiimote creates a wind shield that slows approaching enemies.

While the control scheme is smooth as silk in most instances, there are some problems with the grab and double jump mechanics, namely when you need to use them in conjunction to make large upward jumps. When using the Wiimote and Nunchuk combo, I found it very hard to grab, double jump, grab, double jump quickly enough to jump as high as I needed to go. One of the last levels of the game in particular had me cursing that I could not smash the buttons in the right sequence fast enough to do such a seemingly simple manuver. Perhaps this is where a bit of waggle could have been utilized for good; I would have had no problem having something like the throw or double jump linked to a quick flick of the Wiimote.

Then again, any of the small problems I had with the Wiimote/Nunchuk combination were rectified by a switch to the Classic Controller. Klonoa actually supports several different controllers, including the lone Wiimote turned on its side, the Gamecube controller, and the Classic Controller. The controls exclusive to the Wii are great, but the more classic control schemes are there if you prefer them. Unfortunately, this switch made a very easy game even easier, and so I stuck with the Wiimote for the majority of the time.

If I had to seriously gripe about one thing, it would most certainly be the game’s incredibly easy difficulty level. This in turn helps the game to be much too short. I completed the main game in less than three hours. The game does have a retro lives system, and a Game Over will set you back at the beginning of the level you lost your last life on, even if you died at the area boss. Having only a handful of chances may make you want to to go back and collect extra lives before moving on toward the last few levels of the game, much like running through an easy level several times in Super Mario World to grab all the 1-UPs you possibly can before a particularly tricky castle. Having the means to do such a thing gives off a nice, nostaligic feeling. It’s just a shame that you will almost certainly always have a large stockpile of lives to fall back on just from playing through the earlier levels without dying, giving you no reason to go back and collect more.

After you complete the main game, you unlock several things that were not included in Door to Phantomile. First is Reverse Mode, which simply reverses the existing stages. This doesn’t really make them any more difficult, which may discourage players from finishing more than the first two stages after they find that the mirroring adds no extra challenge. However, there are brand new special stages hidden in every reversed world that are accessed via a vortex. These stages are brutal time trails affairs, where touching the ground means instant death. Because of my problems with grabbing and double jumping, I couldn’t get very far in any of them.

There are also costumes, a Character and Movie Viewer, and a Time Attack Mode that become unlocked. All of these other extras seem like a halfhearted attempt to pad the short main game, as there could have been so much more to each one. For example, the Character Viewer allows the player to look at all the characters met in the game, but that’s all; no character bios, concept art, or anything that could have given the feature a little more depth. The Time Attack Mode lets you fight any of the game’s bosses and records your time, but there is no incentive to try and get a good time. The costumes are the neatest thing to me by far, but they are still a very limited extra. It gives you the option to change Klonoa’s new clothing to his Door to Phantomile and Lunatea’s Veil attire, but I would have liked to see something like some other Namco Bandai character outfits for him too.

As can be expected, there is a very large graphical difference between Klonoa and its PSX predecessor. The pre-rendered 3D sprites of the first game are now fully rendered in real time, and are very beautiful to behold. The character design is a little overly cute, but out there; it is especially fun to see how all the different elemental tribes of the world differ in regards to appearance, from the human-esque tree village dwellers, to the round, clawed people of the aquatic nation. The environments are very colorful and nice to the eyes as well. As for the sound, it’s mostly forgettable. There are a few background tracks that stand out, and although there is no option to change the English voice acting to the original Japanese track, you do have the option of changing it to Phantomillian, a fictional language performed by the Japanese voice actors.

It may be hard for some to get around the saccharine outer coating of Klonoa, but what’s inside is a very solid platformy center. Shallow additions and easy difficulty aside, it is one of the most purely fun games on a home console I have played in a long time. While it is kind of a shame that it is mostly an updated port of an 11 year old game, I am happy that a new generation of gamers will get to experience this great game in its Wii form. The Wiimote and Nunchuk controls work great, the game is gorgeous, and there is a bit of extra content to play around with to boot. But despite all this, I can’t help but feel that the game would have been better suited as a $15 WiiWare release. It is incredibly fun while it lasts, but not lengthy enough to be worth its $30 price tag. That’s why I can’t make myself recommend it to anyone, not even the most diehard platforming fan, as anything more than a rental.

Score: 7

Jonathan Holmes

I never played the original Klonoa games, but now I really want to. Just looking at them used to give me the sense that I had already played them, like all I needed was one glance at the series’ anthropomorphic title character to know everything there was to know about the games. Maybe all those years playing cute-but-bland 2D platformers like Aero the Acrobat, Punky Skunk, and Jazz Jackrabbit just soured me to the whole genre. Regardless of the cause, Klonoa has proven my past prejudice against non-Nintendo branded, running-and-jumping animals to be unfounded. There are a lot of surprises in Klonoa, enough to help the game stand proudly against even the best in the genre.

The first surprise was really only shocking because I’d forgotten about the whole 2.5D craze that was all over the place back in the PS1/Saturn days. Back then, being able to occasionally move in and out of the background of a otherwise 2D platformer really did feel amazing. It didn’t matter if it was actually a good idea or not, it was still mind-blowing, because it was something that couldn’t be done before the advent of polygon based graphics. Thankfully, interacting with stuff off on the horizon is a good idea in Klonoa, as it leads to a whole new dimension (pun!) to the otherwise straight forward gameplay. Looking around for paths to go down or items to collect in the background, finding the method to alter the game’s X axis to enter and mess with the background, usually involves a satisfying “eureka!” moment, something that was lacking in most 2D platformers of that era.

The other big surprise of Klonoa is how well it handles the basics. The game looks really polished and pretty, the levels are generally well designed (with some really tough, well designed levels towards the end), and the game’s gimmick (grabbing enemies and using them to double-jump) actually feels fresh most of the time. I played the game from beginning to end NES style, with the Wii remote turned on it’s side, and I never had any issues with the controls. There is one bit of pointless motion control; a “whirlwind” move that can slow enemies down performed by shaking the Wii remote, but I only used it once and never looked back. All in all, the game stays true to the genre roots, something that’s become more and more of a rarity these days (I’m looking at you, nipples on Sonic’s human girlfriend).

The final surprise the game offered was its at first vanilla, then definitively Vanilla Sky storyline. The game starts off weird, with our cat-faced hero running around with a levitating blue orb creature/best friend, but it’s just sort of implied that in this world, such stuff is commonplace. As the game progresses, it’s revealed that the whole situation is actually pretty bizarre, and by the time it all comes to a close, everything you know has been turned upside down. A few sensitive souls out there may actually shed a tear at the game’s twist ending. It took some guts to give a cute, kid friendly game such a strange and occasionally dark storyline, and I respect Namco for it. 

There are plenty of things I don’t like about Klonoa. For one, the game’s difficulty has no middle ground. It’s either extremely easy (most of the bosses and almost all the regular levels can be beaten on the first or second try) or extremely hard (all the bonus time attack levels are nearly impossible). There’s also the game’s short length, limited variety in enemy encounters (there are only about ten different types of regular enemies and seven different bosses), and occasional bouts of repetitiveness. All the same, the game is definitely worth playing for any fan of the genre. While I can see why Ashley recommends that you rent the game, I’m still glad that I own it. Those time attack challenges may be a pain in the butt, but they’re fun enough that I know I’ll spend a few minutes a month for the next few years trying to beat them all, and the main game has more than enough going for it to warrant the occasional casual play-through. 

Score: 7.5

Overall Score: 7.25 (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)

Ashley Davis