For those who have taken up gaming during this decade, the action-adventure and the first-person shooter are undoubtedly the genres which will dominate the memory years down the line. For others who began their gaming lives in the late 80s or early 90s, like many of us here at PALGN, the platformer is the genre which drew us to the hobby and lingers in the memory bathed in a warm hue of nostalgia. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was released for the original Playstation in 1997 to enthusiastic critical reception, and now, twelve years later, Namco Bandai has seen fit to grace gamers with a Wii remake. Going by the simple monicker of Klonoa, the Wii iteration finds itself emerging in a time when the traditional platforming genre has fallen from favour into a bottomless pit. Klonoa, then, faces a significant question: can a remake of a twelve year-old, quasi-3D platformer with a cartoon aesthetic remain relevant in an age of online multiplayer, ragdoll physics and post-apocalyptic landscapes?
The premise of Klonoa is simple, familiar and clearly skewed towards the younger gamer. The story, such as it is, sees the eponymous, furry biped setting off to derail the dark designs of the malevolent Ghadius and his malevolent minion, Joker. It turns out that Ghadius has kidnapped the legendary songstress Lephise and intends to transform the dream world of Phantomile into a land of nightmares. Along for Klonoa's quest is his cheerful sidekick Hewpoe, a 'ring spirit' who floats after Klonoa and chimes in with boisterous commentary. Their adventure sees them traversing a variety of stages in themed worlds, replete with hidden collectibles and the obligatory boss battles. The game's premise is clearly a callback to a bygone age, but while its familiarity can be tiring, it is ultimately not without a small measure of poignancy.
Much can be said of the extremely simple gameplay, which recreates both the gameplay experience of the original and the joy of all the old platformers which influenced it. Klonoa takes place on a 2D plane, even thought the einvronments are lovingly rendered in full 3D. This means that the player largely guides Klonoa in the left or right directions with occasional minor forays into the third dimension, jumping over pits and dodging enemies. Klonoa also sports a device called a 'wind bullet', with which he can grab roaming enemies and hoist them above his head; from this state, Klonoa can use the captured foe to perform a double jump, or throw it in order to attack or gather collectibles. The title supports multiple control configurations, including the Classic Controller and Gamecube pad, and for most, including younger gamers, the simple control mechanics will click after fifteen or twenty minutes of play. The controls may be wholly digital, with little to no support for nuanced analogue movement, but they are responsive and tight as a drum. It is this accessibility and purity which makes the Klonoa experience such a breath of fresh air in spite of its age. Aside from traversing the world, ferreting out items and negotiating basic puzzles, there is little else on offer in terms of gameplay, but rather than render the game boring or repetititve, this lends the title a sense of focus and allows it to be a finely-tuned experience.
Klonoa's visuals are also the clear product of care and attention. While the 1997 original looked fantastic for its time and sported gorgeous sprites overlayed on three-dimensional backdrops, the Wii remake takes full advantage of the added processing power afforded to it. Klonoa himself and the range of enemies he faces are now polygonal, and fit consistently with the colourful, lush worlds they inhabit. Each of the game's stages utilises colour effectively, and not since Super Mario Galaxy has a game charmed us and wowed us through simple use of the spectrum. The game is awash in purples, blues and greens which struggle to find a presence in modern games amongst the gray and brown. Klonoa also boasts some simple effects which make it stand above the majority of Wii titles. The water effects, for example, are among the best you'll see on Wii and help to sell the environments. It also doesn't hurt that the game's narrow focus has allowed Namco Bandai to maintain a buttery framerate which never falters. While the player is restricted to a 2D plane, by the end of Klonoa the player will have travelled through varied and interesting environments which are seldom seen on Wii. One hates to be repetitive, but this is one of the most charming-looking Wii games since the aforementioned Mario title.
The aural experience proffered by Klonoa is mixed to say the least. The eclectic tunes of the original have been updated and rearranged in a satisfying way, and almost every environment boasts an infectious ditty. The music seldom becomes irritating, and overall, Klonoa is a pleasure to listen to during play. The only fly in the ointment comes when the game transitions to a cut scene story sequence (all of which are now rendered in-engine as opposed to the FMV of the original) and the endearing characters begin to speak. While the characters spoke warbled nonsense (a la Banjo-Kazooie or Okami) in the original, Namco Bandai has seen fit to record all-new voice overs. Sadly, the quality of the voices is terrible. Klonoa's angsty-teen vocal inflection immediately grates, and most players will have traumatic Vietnam-style flashbacks to every time they have been forced to listen to the heinous murmurings of Sonic the Hedgehog over the past ten years. Similarly, Klonoa's friend Hewpoe sports a high-pitched squeal reminiscent of Tails the Fox which will have many dabbing tissues in their ears to mop up the bleeding. Why Namco Bandai substituted charming, albeit hokey warbling for the vocal talent preferred by Sonic Team is a mystery of otherworldly proportions. Players should avail themselves of the opportunity to swap back to the gibberish as soon as possible; it is unfortunate that Klonoa's default voice settings are so poor, and this represents the game's greatest aesthetic flaw.
Most player's will exhaust Klonoa within five or six hours, particularly if they are experienced. There is not much challenge on offer, although the difficulty curve does gradually increase in a satisfying manner. Collectibles provide a small incentive to explore every inch of the stages, but it is likely that most gamers will reach the end of Klonoa within a couple of days and place the game lovingly back on their shelf until one rainy day during which they decide to sit down and experience it all over again. Much like the Playstation 2 classic, Ico, Klonoa is a small gem which will likely find a special place in the hearts of gamers despite its brief duration.
Does Klonoa overcome the question posed in the opening paragraph of this review? Of course it does. This is a classic platformer whose humble ambitions are realised with solid controls, engaging level design, and gorgeous visuals. Its premise is tired, but its presentation is generally top-notch. If you've never played Klonoa, the Wii iteration is the perfect opportunity to experience this minor classic, and represents a fantastic choice for younger gamers due to its charm and accessibility. For gamers who harbour feelings of nostalgia for the platforming genre, Klonoa is almost essential. Place your finger on the jump-button, get set, and go.