Since Pokémon conquered the world in the 1990s, it’s easy to
forget that the developer that created it, Game Freak, can make games that don’t
involve monster collecting. For the first time in years, the developer is putting
together a non-Pokemon adventure, this time as a 3DS downloadable. Recently
revealed in Japan, the rhythm game Harmo Knight already has a demo available on
the Japanese eShop. After just 30 minutes with the game we want it released in
the US yesterday.
After an unexpected English language opening that introduced
us to playable character Tempo and his companion, the tap-dancing rabbit Tappy
(our new favorite game character), it was time to learn the basics--and it
doesn’t get much more basic than the controls. The B button jumps and the A
button attacks, and that’s all you have to worry about. Hopping over obstacles
and hitting enemies to the rhythm was simple in the tutorials, but much like Pokémon,
the minimalistic controls mask surprising complexity.
You move from song to song in a world map reminiscent of
classic Mario games, and even with the more fast-paced songs, the gameplay isn’t
as punishing as in some rhythm games. Jumping is used to avoid enemies or hit
the perfect arc to collect a series of notes, but the platforming often rewards
players that go for the more challenging moves instead of penalizing each
missed note. The same goes for perfectly timing attacks: If you miss by a
fraction of a second, you still hit the monster and not take damage, but you
don’t add a point to your score.
The Mario-esque map reflects a similar style of level
pacing. After a few increasingly challenging stages, we reached the boss: a
huge wolf and his team of smaller wolf minions. Unlike the normal stages, the
boss fight worked more like the “listen and repeat” techniques of Parappa the
Rapper and Space Channel 5. The fight was impressively cinematic, especially
considering our lowered expectations for a downloadable title.
Though the setting and characters are brand new, Game Freak
can’t completely escape Pokémon in Harmo Knight. The fifth track we played was borrowed
directly from the famous franchise, with a rousing rendition of the Pokémon
battle theme. It was the most challenging level of the demo, but our Poké-love
pushed us forward. We’re glad Harmo Knight has its own identity, but we hope
there are at least another handful of songs off Pokémon’s awesome soundtrack in
For those hopeful it will come to the US soon, Harmo Knight
has a promising amount of English in it for a Japanese game, meaning
localization is likely. It’s priced at around $20 in Japan, which is a little
steep for something off the eShop, but Game Freak looks to be taking this game
pretty seriously. After all the fun we’ve had with Pokémon, we’d play anything
Game Freak wants to try, and now we’re pretty confident the developer can keep
the beat about as well as it throws Pokéballs.