Klonoa is a franchise that is heavily under appreciated. The series is a fun puzzle/platformer that blends 2D platforming with simple but inventive mechanics in addition to some impressive usage of the 3D plane. The game that started it all, is the original classic on the PlayStation One; Door to Phantomile. It takes a simple concept and fleshes it out with a powerful story and strong core gameplay. But does it hold up today?
The game takes place in the Dreamworld of a place called ‘Phantomile’, a place where people don’t clearly remember there dreams. One being living in this world is a cat-rabbit….thing, named Klonoa. He travels in a forest before the game starts and finds a ring stuck into the ground.
After pulling it out of the ground, he finds that a special being named Huepow lives inside it. Him and Klonoa become best friends and both live a happy life. Then games events then take place, with Klonoa and Huepow investigating a crash hitting near there homes windmill. The game starts and the game is very clever with its story; it looks peaceful and very Kirby-esc; everyone bright and colorful, levels having a bright tone and the music starting out very innocent.
But things get darker over time, with an ending that…..really sucker punches you. Not going to spoil it for this Retrospective but you will feel bad for Klonoa by the end of the adventure. The story is also very well told, with dialog being very natural and its unique language that sounds very Banjo-Kazooie like that fits its setting well.
The story is powerful and you will be attached to many of the characters you meet across the game.
Gameplay & Level Design
This is where things get very interesting, as Klonoa at first glance feels like any old Nintendo platformer; you can run and jump, have colorful locations to visit and more. Even some of the games mechanics and gimmicks appear ‘borrowed’ from other games like the ability to use enemy abilities like Kirby or the simple controls of 2D Mario.
But the game flips them on their head, as the game is more of a puzzle platformer then one would expect. Klonoa has a special way of interacting with foes, rather then killing them outright, you can pick them up using his Wind Bullet ability (Square or Circle). You can then either throw them or use them to double jump. Sounds simple, right? It is, but it gets more complex then this.
You can also throw foes into and out of the screen, hitting objects in the background of levels. In addition, some foes have unique abilities, like some letting you hover in the air while you grab them until they vanish or some being out right bombs that tick down until they explode (giving you plenty of time to double jump or giving you a good length to aim you shot).
Level designs work with these mechanics beautifully, with it progressively getting harder as the game teaches you different ways the mechanics work and even new ones (like finding Keys for doors) over time. They also play with the perspectives a lot, with you get to go into and out of the screen often, with examples including things like riding a mine cart or fighting bosses forcing you to throw foes into the screen to damage them. Playing with the 3D Perspective is a concept that is really refreshing as while other platformers of this era did this like the Crash Bandicoot series, Klonoa feels like a more puzzle-focused take on Donkey Kong Country. This allows the game to stick closer to being a 2D platformer and it makes Klonoa feel like a one-of-a-kind platformer despite it using mechanics other games utilizing similar mechanics in the past.
Lastly, we come to the design of the game for the core gameplay section. The game is broken up into six visions (and a final one with only one act to clear), each with two acts not unlike the Sonic series. Each vision has six villagers you are trying to save, as after the events of Vision 1 they get trapped in bubbles. You can free them with your Wind Bullet and they are mostly easy to find. It is one of the games few issues though, as you can’t replay stages until you beat the game. Thankfully, when you beat the main story, you can go back to older stages to save the ones you missed. Saving all of them even unlocks bonus level to complete too, so there is an incentive to save them all.
The game looks great on the PS1, with the characters being DKC-like Sprites but the levels being fully 3D. This allows the game to age gracefully on the PS1 and to this day the worlds look great. Great usage of color and dream-like atmosphere helps the world come alive. The only 3D models that are characters are the boss characters you fight at the end of each set of visions.
Musically, Klonoa succeeds on this front too, with catchy melodies and great themes that match the games worlds and setting.
Some personal favorite tracks of mine include the following.
Overall: 4 out of 5
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is a utter classic that while having the small issues of being too easy at times for more seasoned platforming fans and not letting you replay older stages until you beat the game, still is a strong game I can easily recommend to any fan of the genre. Klonoa is a PlayStation hidden gem and a title I whole hearted recommend to people that love puzzle games and platformers.