This article was originally published at Another-Castle.com
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was released in 1997 at a time when fully rendered 3D video games were beginning to dominate the industry. The previous year saw the release of three revolutionary games: Super Mario 64, Tomb Raider and Quake. The platformers that dominated the 16-bit consoles were then looking archaic and many popular series were making the switch to 3D to varying degrees of success. Klonoa is a product of this changing landscape being in many ways a classic platformer but set in a fully 3D environment.
Perhaps the best way to describe Klonoa to those that haven’t played it is as a hybrid of Nights into Dreams and Kirby’s Dreamland. Nights in the sense that it is played on a fully 3D landscape that rotates as you move. This circular design means you can often see upcoming platforms and obstacles in the background. There are also times when Klonoa can traverse through the centre and into new plains. The Kirby influence comes from the way enemies are often used to Klonoa’s advantage, rather than as obstacles to progress. The gameplay is also similarly paced and the art design; just as adorable.
Another similarity with the Kirby series is a dream motif as the world of Phantomile exists as a dream world and each level is called a “vision”. Like many platformers, the plot involves a vibrant, colourful world being threatened by an evil force that can only be stopped by a very cute and unlikely protagonist. This is not to belittle the plot though as it isn’t merely a paragraph in the instruction manual but something that develops throughout the game through cutscenes and dialogue. Klonoa, if you haven’t worked it out by now, is the main protagonist. His sidekick is Huepow, a ‘Ring Spirit’ who plays an integral role in the story, as well as allowing Klonoa to perform his ‘wind bullet’ attack when inside the ring.
When used the enemy will be inflated and attached to his ring. From here Klonoa can throw the enemy in multiple directions including into the background and even use it to perform a higher jump. The attack can destroy other enemies, activate buttons or switches and break open containers. This simple mechanic with multiple uses makes for challenging platforming, clever puzzles and entertaining combat. The boss battles are also some of the most inventive I’ve experienced. The most notable bosses are fought on a ring platform, making excellent use of the 3D perspective.
As clever as the design is, it still takes some getting used to. Someone who has just begun to learn the basics could be forgiven for considering the controls somewhat unresponsive. I did at first but after playing through the game I consider this to be simply down to how precise you must be. Rather than being unresponsive, they are merely unforgiving when precision, speed or both is required. As this was an early 3D game, there are also times when the environment can be confusing. I made mistakes thinking background objects were platforms on a number of occasions.
Though the visuals of early 3D games haven’t generally aged well, Klonoa is very much an exception. The colourful beginning stages I found especially striking – with plenty of blue sky and greenery. The journey sees Klonoa go to darker places as the story progresses but the visuals remain appealing even in these areas. It also has a lively, varied soundtrack. In place of spoken dialogue is a Phantomile language which sounds like jumbled Japanese the voice work is cute and serves to give the world an alien feel.
It depends on your perspective but arguably the biggest problem with Klonoa might be considered its playtime. The game could easily be completed in less than five hours on a first playthrough. This is a common and decent length for a platformer but with today’s expectations for games content-wise, some may consider this a bigger problem than I do. There are collectables to extend the game and an unlockable challenge that fully tests your grasp of the controls. As well as this, levels are scored based on how many gems you collect.
Klonoa is true platforming gem. While it certainly borrows from other games, it has done so in such a way as to make it unique as a whole. It does everything right where it matters, and while not always challenging, is always compelling. The original PlayStation release now commands a high price but it is available inexpensively on PSN. There is also a remake on the Wii which drops the subtitle, keeps the fun gameplay and adds some beautifully animated visuals. If you like platformers and haven’t played this, then it is an absolute recommendation.