From his first appearance in 1997, there’s always been that feeling that Klonoa would have better suited a Nintendo platform – after all, giant flapping ears and whimsical rainbow vistas sit uncomfortably alongside the Tekkens and Metal Gear Solids. As a simple bit of franchise/console matchmaking, Namco’s remake is to be applauded.
But why stem the clapping there? This is no slapdash port but a facelift that plays to the Wii’s strengths: color and solidity. The 2.5D levels (2D paths that bend and twist to give the illusion of depth) are some of the most vibrant on Wii. Whether you find yourself among rolling hills, in misted mansions or shimmering crystal palaces, the level designers play fast and funky with the surroundings, throwing in mine-carts, water chutes and blustering windmills as they see fit. Water is lusciously handled, showcased as you climb a reversed waterfall – a sight that wouldn’t be out of place in Mario Galaxy.
Not that Klonoa himself has the same energy. Namco claimed to have tweaked the character for modern times – speeding him up and tidying up some jumping issues – but he does feel a little long in the tooth. Mario Galaxy showed us how the energy of a 3D character could work in 2D confines – Mario was just as loose and limber with one dimension less to be loose and limber in. Klonoa plods a little and, while we like Namco’s confidence in sticking with D-pad controls, it really does hammer home just how far platformers have evolved in the last 10 years.
But that’s not to say that this fogey can’t teach our young upstarts a thing or two about platforming basics; Klonoa goes beyond mere run and jump. Borrowing from the Nintendo school of design, this game’s developers take a simple ability – grabbing and throwing enemies – and show how to use it a hundred different ways.
Thrown enemies can hurt, but they also give you a double jump, leading to platforming brainteasers as you ferry enemies to locations where your regular hop has let you down. As with hoarding feathers in Super Mario Bros 3 or eggs in Yoshi’s Island, you soon realize the beautiful logic that governs each of the stages.
That realization, however, is short-lived. The fact that Klonoa demands a masterful command of a simple ability is admirable, but it doesn’t push it as far as Nintendo would. There are bonus trinkets squirrelled away – six prisoners in each stage and gem criteria to meet – but these are too easily found, especially by those of us raised on a diet of Nintendo’s NES and SNES 2D mind-benders. When you face-off against a Nintendo fan you’re dealing with minds capable of finding warp pipes, invisible blocks and Star Roads. To them, Klonoa is small fry.
Strip away the gleeful visuals and Klonoa most reminds us of those late ’90s platforming efforts that took up most of the N64 pages in old gaming mags. In the wake of Mario 64 came these platform pretenders – the Tonic Troubles, Glovers and Chameleon Twists of this world. There were ideas in some of those wannabes, but they were universally too muddled or throwaway. With its solid 2D paths, Klonoa is never messy or broken, but it does suffer from the same flimsy game length (a trifling 12 stages) that so many of those titles were dragged across the coals for.
It seems so miserly and cynical to berate a game for being too short, but at just five hours long it’s at least five hours too brief. In these hard financial times, gamers are going to want a title that gives them more than a day’s entertainment for their money. In those short hours Klonoa delivers charm by the bucketload and a concentration of wonderful ideas, but then the same can be said for World of Goo and that clocks in at a whole lot cheaper and will keep you busy for much longer.
May 5, 2009