|By Zach Patterson||Thursday, 28 May 2009|
With the recent release of Klonoa for Wii, a remake of the PS1 game, it reminded me that this was a pretty underrated series that I needed to spend some time with. And while the original Playstation will run you a pretty penny to find on the used market, the other games in the series can be found rather inexpensively. The GBA iterations of the series can be had for almost nothing. Upon visiting a Gamestop recently, I picked up Empire of Dreams for $3, expecting to find a game that was decent but not up to par with the original game. As it turns out, Empire of Dreams is a bit of a different game, but it’s also very fun, lighthearted, and enjoyable. One of Klonoa’s defining features on Playstation was tight 2D gameplay wrapped in a very pretty 3D gaming engine to create a 2.5D platformer with dramatic camera angles in a bright, colorful world (for those of you with good memories, it was similar to Crystal Dynamics’ Pandemonium series that existed around the same time). Well, this is the Game Boy Advance, and as you might expect, this is a sprite-based, straight up 2D platformer. What I didn’t expect however, was that this was actually going to be more of a puzzle-action game. While I’m struggling
to come up with good similarities (I’m sure there’s one game that is similar that I’m just completely forgetting), the game basically plays out with 5 worlds containing 8 levels apiece. Each level is broken up in a half dozen to a dozen different rooms, and to advance, you must collect, in most cases, all the stars, crystals, and keys. Now if I was reading this without playing it, I would think this would be a collect-a-thon hassle. Luckily, the game handles this really well. First of all, almost every area lays out what you need to do pretty plainly. Sometimes you just need to get to the top of a platform, sometimes you blow up a block to advance, or press a switch, etc. Also, the items you need to get aren’t hidden at all, and usually you will collect all of them as you advance without even realizing it. In all except one level, I had gotten all 30 crystals, 3 stars, and keys by the time I was at the end door without getting to the end and being stumped. So yes, the game is actually a bit on the easy side, but what I like about it is how well it is designed. Each level has rooms, and each room is usually self contained. There’s enemies, blocks, switches, spikes, and other random hazards in the room, and your goal is simple, figure out how to get from one end to the other to advance to the next room, and grab the items you see along the way. What makes this system work is the simplicity of the game. Klonoa has 3 essential moves: he can grab enemies and use them to double jump, he can float Yoshi-style for a few seconds, and he can also use the enemies as weapons by throwing them. You will use these in every way possible in the levels. Many times an enemy will be floating up and down on a series of ledges that are too high to jump to on your own. You use that enemy to double jump to the first ledge out of reach, wait for him to respawn, then grab him on that same ledge and use him to double jump again to reach the top. It’s an ingenius bit of level design and enemy placement that may go unnoticed by kids playing the game, but as a veteran gamer, it’s hard not to like a game like this.
Additionally, as the game progresses, the level of complexity increases and one item in a room might be used a dozen times to get everything you need out of there. And although the game definitely ramps up its level puzzles, it never gets too hard, and the answer is always a logical one. There are times when you get trapped or destroy a needed item by failing to use it right, but the game is very generous with restarts (you can restart at the start of that room at any time without restarting the level). It reminds me of Kirby games a good bit, because the game will get a bit more challenging as you go, but it’s undeniably easy and fun for all ages. While there are the puzzles levels that make up a good bit of the game, there are 3 other types of levels: snowboarding, auto-scroll, and boss levels. These are more traditional platformer fare that exist in every world to break up the puzzles. The snowboarding levels are fast and fun and mainly revolve around finding as many items as you can (it won’t penalize you if you miss them), and the same goes for the auto-scroll levels, though I still can’t say I’m a fan of these type of levels. They start extremely easy, but the last couple auto-scrolls are pretty tough, especially if you are trying to grab all the items. The boss fights are typical “hit boss in weak spot 3 times” types, and aren’t very hard or all that interesting, unfortunately. The final boss provides a little bit of a fun challenge, but in general they are a bit of a weak aspect of the game. This whole game is very short. Each puzzle level only takes 5-10 mins, the other levels much less than that, and the whole game will take only about 3-4 hours to beat. It actually left me wanting more, and there are some bonus levels which gave me some pretty crazy levels which I was hoping would show up. These levels test out just how much of a resourceful gamer you are, and they truly utilize each part of the environment and Klonoa’s abilities to their fullest extent. The game, as mentioned, lacks the flashiness of the 3D Klonoas, but it’s a rather pretty game on its own accord. Nicely drawn sprites of Klonoa and memorable series’ enemies are here, and the “enemy grab” mechanic looks great too, as it maintains a faux-3D-blown-up look when you grab them. While at times the levels can look similar, each world is quite different from the rest, and they are all rather colorful. Additionally, each world seems to introduce a new aspect of the game (explosive reusable enemies, sticky blocks, etc), so it never gets too boring or stagnant.
One part that is lacking to the audio. While there are some of the original game’s tunes arranged and represented here, they are just boring. Most of it sounds like generic kid’s music, which is a shame, because I seem to remember the PS1 game having pretty good stuff in it. Also, the voice samples. There’s like two or three of them for Klonoa, and I was sick of them about 10 mins in. I mean, you hit start, you hear WAHOO. You start a level, WAHOO. You make certain actions in a level, WAHOO. Ugh. Fuck that sound. For as well designed as this is, you would think the developer would have realized this is incredibly grating and annoying, and look to fix it. The story is also rather simplistic, silly, and throwaway in nature (“BELIEVE IN YOUR DREAMS KIDS”…that’s pretty much the moral of the story here), but it gets the job done and never impedes on the core gameplay. Klonoa: Empire of Dreams is simply a fun, little game that doesn’t get too ambitious, but does what it aims to do very well. It could certainly stand to be a little longer, or have more of the tough bonus stages, or have some different goddamn voice samples, but again, it’s one of those games that is easy to play and easy to like. I also respect it for going in a different direction and not just being a watered down version of the PS1 version. This game stands on its own, and is worth picking up, especially at the bargain price I found it at.