Review: Klonoa (Wii, 2009)

Klonoa-Wii

Klonoa, an enhanced port of an old Playstation game, is a bit of a let down. Everything is in place for it to be a sublime experience. The graphics are really good for the generation(s) behind Wii, it’s a 2.5D platformer (I’m a huge fan), it controls well, the music isn’t bad.

It’s also really short. Like, really short. Download-only title off the eShop short. Also, for a good 90% of the game, it’s very easy.

I’m a little sad to say that I was expecting to really enjoy the experience, to be in a state of nerdy bliss after having fond memories of the original for a decade plus. I rented it when I was about 12 years old, smack dab in the middle of my more active gaming years. It surprised me. It was simple, but lovely. A fun 2D romp when we were only offered usually bland, wide open spaces and usually bad camera angles (something that we put up with quite well, if only because we had to). It felt obscure, like it shouldn’t have been released in America, and that alone gave it an air of mystique.

At the time, Super Mario 64 was groundbreaking in many ways, and it changed things heavily for quite awhile, but none more pointedly than the platformer genre. Moving left and right on one axis no longer seemed good enough. It felt old hat and outdated.

As implied earlier, much of those 3D games — ones I still cherish to this very day — were technically poorly executed experiences in comparison. Klonoa and its ilk were refreshing by default, because no matter how little you could explore the surrounding environments — and they were beautiful at the time, of course — you never had to contend with a pesky camera and obtuse control configurations. It was left, right, up, and down. The kind of stuff developers had down pat after years and years of experience. The polygonal environments surrounding your character were simply an amusing extra.

Screen Shot 2013-01-26 at 2.22.00 PM

Klonoa’s 2D paths wind around trees, mountain sides, interiors of caverns. The camera moves along gently, sometimes employing cool angles to show off the path around and ahead. The show off-y camera might have been amazing back then — and as someone who was there, I can tell you it most likely was — but it’s fairly pedestrian now.

One thing Klonoa still does, of course, is flawlessly present a game that is two dimensional in a 3D world, even if it no longer feels as interesting as it once did.

The titular character is one that is hard to describe. He comes from the mascot platformer crazed 90s, and it shows. He’s a bunny-like thing, I guess, that wakes up one day and is destined to save the world. Very standard stuff. Hewpoe is your sidekick, a little floating blue ball of happiness (…), instructing you to save the world from some dude named Ghadius, who is of course the keeper of nightmares or something. Everyone rejects him and his darn nightmares, and he’s mad, blah blah, let’s save the world, blah blah.

In game, apart from typical platformer tropes, Klonoa can use Hewpoe as a “wind bullet.” This lets him inject a giant blast of wind into cutesy, seemingly harmless animals (“enemies”), inflating them into giant animal balls. These giant, always rotating animal balls can be thrown at other innocent animals for an explosion of cute, or used to simply jump higher (of course). It’s a simple idea, but hey, it’s fun.

There are light puzzles here and there, mostly involving keys (okay, the door can open now!). Some of the later levels get particularly interesting, as paths wind around other paths. On occasion, you’ll catch a glimpse at another part of the level you won’t be able to get to until later, or one you’ve already been to before. It’s simple but effective enough.

Boss battles are, of course, insultingly easy. Nothing worse than Mario, though. All of them revolve around one simple idea: throwing inflated animals at the boss. Four or so hits later, the end! Cue dramatic cut scene!

Speaking of cut scenes, oh my gawd they are frequent and SUPER boring. This is made worse by the fact that the Balloon font scrolls by at the slowest possible rate, and there is no way to speed it up. It practically screams “THIS IS FOR YOUNGER PLAYERS,” which makes me feel just great since I’m almost 30. The only way to remedy this is by unfortunately skipping entire portions of a cut scene. If I were not reviewing the game, I’d have skipped them every chance I had, not one care in the world.

While it’s really boring, typical stuff, boy does it ever get dramatic. Spoiler alert until the next bold text that says “SPOILER ALERT OVER!!!!!” Klonoa’s grandfather, one that is line with every other grandfather in every other game released in the 90s (slow, earnest, wise, stupid, zzz), dies halfway through. Ghadius’s accomplice Joker kills him in a hilariously over the top explosion, because, uh, these darn kids are getting in the way (or whatever). Klonoa reacts to the death by screaming bloody murder as the camera pans upwards towards the sky. Fade out. Fade in, Klonoa has tears in his eyes as he mutters something about revenge. Huh.

Nothing about this is original or, uh, good — but it carries slight emotional heft I can’t ignore. It has nothing to do with the plot itself (which is the epitome of cliche) and everything to do with how dramatically it is presented. This is a huge stretch, but it reminded me of that scene in Final Fantasy VII. Nowhere near the level of that game’s intensity — I was happy about seeing Grandfart exploding, not so much Aeris being stabbed — but you can tell that the developers were working overtime to garner some emotion out of its players, particularly its older ones.

From this point onwards, Klonoa’s story takes a fairly dark turn, which when juxtaposed alongside the simplistic gameplay makes for an interesting experience. Again, nothing at all original happens, whatsoever. Klonoa seeks revenge after Grandfart dies, of course, and gets all the way to the stars (well, yeah) at one point near the end of the game. He does so in a fairly typical, mid 90s video game way — “To the Temple of the Sun!” one character shouts, if I recall correctly — but it feels organic enough and slightly more interesting now because of how dramatically it’s presented. It feels epic, even if only a little bit.

Screen Shot 2013-01-26 at 2.25.49 PM

Which brings us to the most downbeat ending to a mascot platformer of all fucking time: Klonoa is told, after saving this land and all that crap (but not having, I should note, magically resurrected his dead Grandpoop), that everything is a lie. A variation on the lazy “it was all a dream,” the whole world the game took place in is said to be not real in the most dramatic way possible, right before Klonoa gets sucked out of the sky forever, desperately clinging onto his BFF Hewpoe before letting go. (“Titanic.”) And then the credits roll as somber music plays. I sat there stunned. It ended. Hewpoe (who turns out to be a Teletubbie, by the way!!!!) lied to him the whole time about being total BFFs forever and ever. How dare he!!!

Uh.

Ahem.

Okay. Very generic stuff, right? Yet, it’s somehow memorable. Everything about it lingers in my memory, even if it’s TOTALLY about a fluffy bunny thing with giant ears being told he has to wake up or whatever. SPOILER ALERT OVER!!!!

After the end game, assuming you’ve easily gathered all collectables (every level has six or so pieces to collect), you are rewarded with an extra level, which seems challenging enough, and “reverse mode,” which is super quaint until you notice little portals into bonus rooms of hell. I have yet to complete a single one, and I don’t imagine I’ll being doing it any time soon. They are NES hard. I’m not the most precise Klonoa player on the planet, I know — a simple search on Youtube proves as much. For some, these may be not so bad, but they are, for me, about 100 times more difficult than anything else in the main game.

I feel like I’ve dumped more on Klonoa than praised it, which unfortunately accurately reflects how I feel in the end, but I had a pleasant enough experience the whole way through. It never bored me outside of the early cut scenes, and it was always lovely to look at and easy to get into.

For those in love with old school 2D platformers, you should probably pick it up. The extra hard stuff after the game is over will give those who need to be frustrated a lovely bouquet of frustration. Otherwise, it’s pleasant fluff, short as hell, wrapped in an intriguingly emotional shell.

+ Game is decent fun.
+ Graphics are incredible for the Wii, especially in 2009. Looks great on HD sets.
+ The story finally gets slightly interesting, if only in presentation.
+ Controls perfectly.

– Five hours or less.
– No challenge for most of the main game.
– T e x t   s c r o l l s   b y   t o o   s l o w .
– Level design for most of the game is slightly unmemorable.

***/*****

I’ll be playing through the two Klonoa games released for the GBA next. I enjoyed them a lot more than this one, at least back then. I’m excited.

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