Version tested: Wii
Last year, Klonoa's publisher Namco Bandai sent its supporters a survey. "We are planning to remake one of our classic titles," it stated. "Would you be so kind as to answer a few questions to help guide the development?" The recipient was then required to fill in some straightforward details: "Age", "Gender", "Do you have or intend to buy a Wii?" and so on. Then the questions became more pointed and peculiar, asking, for example, that respondents register their excitement about the concept of a Wind Bullet (a ring-like device that "fires a short burst of wind, used to inflate your enemies").
Finally, the questionnaire presented two different character designs of the titular bipedal rabbit-cat himself. "Based on these two images", it then asked, "please rate the following design characteristics on a scale of one to five: Ears, Face, Clothing, Shoes and Lack of Hat". (The exact same order of criteria Eurogamer uses to choose a partner). Surely it was this final option that revealed the true purpose the survey, to finally settle a debate that had presumably raged for months between two precious designers: should the all-new Klonoa wear a hat or not? Well, that and the stuff about the Wind Bullet. It's very important to know what your customer thinks about the Wind Bullet…
In the end, the pro-hat designer won out (as well he should: if you owned a sweet-ass Pac-Man cap, why on earth would you ever leave the warren without it?). If Namco had had any more general doubts about resurrecting this minor star of the 32-bit era, they were evidently quashed by the positive response to their inimitable brand of research.
It's not surprising. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was, on its original release in 1997, a cute, colourful and imaginative platform game, one that helped pioneer the 2.5D side-scrolling technique and whose influence can clearly be seen in contemporary heavyweights such as LittleBigPlanet. So despite one or two mediocre sequels, there still exists a good dose of nostalgic goodwill towards the charming character and the dream-world he roamed.
Time has done little to dull those charms. From the first touch, Klonoa feels like a crucial missing piece of the jigsaw of the Wii's library: a side-scrolling platform game with assured, grounded, tried-and-tested foundations. This is an orthodox game that wants nothing to do with innovation. You move, in general, from left to right, defeating enemies, scaling and descending platforms and collecting things before facing off against a boss character with a life bar and one or two repeating attack patterns.
Visually, it's a primary-colour paint-splat of art and design that's just the right side of saccharine. Its character designs are esoteric but somehow familiar, its animations are economic but effective, its exacting Japanese polish and pedigree are impeccable.
So far, so Miyamoto, you might think. But Klonoa's abilities and feel are quite different to those of the brothers Mario. While you can bounce on enemies' heads, the key move to master is that Wind Bullet, which allows you to grab hold of enemies. At this point you can either launch them at other enemies as a projectile weapon, or alternatively, use your captured prey for a double jump, bouncing off their heads in mid-air to gain extra height. As it's possible to fire the Wind Bullet again, during the upward projectile of a double jump, skilful players will be able to perform triple and, in the later stages of the game, even quadruple jumps to make their way to hard-to-reach places.
Exploring Klonoa's environments is generally a pleasure. There's no doubt that each world is based on a platform game cliché. From the rolling green hills and mills of The Wind Village, to the flutter of candlelight and bat's wings in Gunston Mine, to the white foam and blue watery backdrop of Jugpot, there's nowhere here we've not visited before. But each level is beautifully designed and presented, the camera tilting and snaking to take in the best angles as you hop from ledge to ledge. It's one of the best-looking games on the console.
Compatible with just about every Wii controller and configuration you care to mention (including, Megaton-alert, the WaveBird), the game's a joy to handle whichever mode you opt for. Character control is as tight and precise as it needs to be in any platform game. However, running, jumping and using the Wind Bullet represents the full extent of Klonoa's abilities.
Later in the game he doesn't find Raccoon suits that let him fly, nor can he snack on a mushroom for a growth spurt. As such, all of the game's puzzles and challenges have to be solved by this small palette of player tools. Some enemies carry shields around, meaning they have to be attacked from behind, while others are simply too big to grab, so you have to use other means to get past them. But Namco finds it hard to build substantially on the ideas and template laid out in the first stage, resorting to dumb find-the-key puzzles to inject challenge and, as such, this is a game that impresses most in the short term.
In one sense, that's no disaster. After all, there's very little long-term to be had here. The game consists of six worlds, each of which boasts just two stages, all of which a persistent player will be able to finish in a day or two. Every stage contains six captured villagers to find but, as you gain no new abilities later in the game, every single one of these can be found on your first visit to each level if you're thorough. Once complete, you can play through the entire game in a mirror mode, but there's no Symphony of the Night-style masterplan in play here: it's a simple flip of perspective, a novelty that, once worn off, leaves little to compel you back through the game.
The result is a mixed success. In terms of its childlike spectacle, Klonoa is quite brilliant, offering a number of memorable set-pieces and an unforgettable, wistful ambience throughout. But its challenges, while obvious, are often fiddly to overcome, and the sense of deep achievement that comes from completing one of Super Mario's tasks is here replaced by mere relief that it's over. That flaw - combined with the game's brevity and limited pool of ideas - lessens our recommendation, but it doesn't quite mute it.
7 / 10