As a Nintendo 64 owner, I missed out on many Playstation exclusives in the late 90s. Klonoa, a “2.5D” platformer from Namco, always intrigued me. When Sony announced that the PSN store would no longer be available on PSP or Vita, I knew it was time to take the game for a spin. (They later retracted the announcement.) Unless otherwise indicated, all screenshots are taken from World of Longplays.
Loading it up for the first time, I’m greeted by a cheerful scene of Klonoa playing with his best friend Huepow. The lighthearted intro was somewhat jarring in comparison to the game’s cover art. Striking an aggressive pose and holding his Wind Ring sideways like a gangster, Klonoa gives the impression that he’s one tough cookie. In fact, it was a case of making a character edgier for a western audience. The late 90’s were overrun with try-hard, edgelord protagonists so this was actually a plus.
In Klonoa, the titular hero moves in two dimensions, but he will follow bridges and paths as they turn. Areas in the background might be traversed later as the level twists and turns. In effect, he explores three dimensional spaces while moving in 2D. This, combined with the game’s bright, cartoony visuals, gives each level a distinctive identity and atmosphere.
Klonoa has a fairly small moveset. He can fire his Wind Ring to grab enemies and either toss them or use them while jumping to propel himself into the air. Enemies can be tossed into the foreground or background as well. Additionally, holding the jump button in the air causes Klonoa to hover momentarily.
But it would be a mistake to assume the simple controls hinder the experience. Some clever level design makes each area feel fresh and engaging. Boss battles are satisfying as well, usually requiring to you to solve an intuitive puzzle.
A few minor issues cropped up during my time with Klonoa. He tends to take an extra step after I stop holding forward.* I plunged off many a narrow platform before I adapted to this. The hitboxes on some enemies and items are surprisingly small. While the colorful backgrounds hold up well, the pre rendered sprites look blurry in high definition.
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile offers a charming, varied adventure. Any gamer interested in retro platformers will find it absolutely essential. At $6 it’s a steal for PS3 and PSP owners.
* I played most of the game on a PS Vita TV with a Dual Shock 4. After quite a bit of frustration, I learned the Vita TV has input lag with the DS4. Unfortunately I learned this very late into the adventure and this unquestionably affected my enjoyment of the game. I wouldn’t call Klonoa terribly difficult, but it occasionally requires precision movement, particularly in later levels, with mistakes leading to instant death. I switched to a Dual Shock 3 and had a much easier time. However, the “extra step” issue persisted.
A few additional thoughts:
* Klonoa was remade/rebooted on the Wii, but strangely enough most Amazon and eBay sellers only have the Japanese version. The local game shop has one copy of the Wii game but they want $135 for it.
* I hoped that some hacker had extracted the game’s assets, allowing us to take a zoomed out look at each level, but a quick Google search didn’t turn up anything.
* This game has one of the most bizarre endings I’ve ever seen:
Huepow informs Klonoa that he’s actually not from this world and that he was summoned to Phantomile. When Klonoa protests that he has all these memories of playing with Huepow, Huepow informs Klonoa that those memories are fake and that he planted them in his head. Immediately afterwards the hero is pulled back to his world as he unsuccessfully tries to hold onto Huepow.
On top of the obvious cruelty of that act, it also raises big questions about the other residents of Phantomile. Klonoa has a grandma and grandpa, his memories of them must have been fake too. So they played along? How deep does this ruse go?