Import impressions - Harmo Knight, the 3DS rhythm game from the creators of Pokemon

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 this downloadable.

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.