You wake up in a basement with no memory to speak of, and a single word written on your arm: KLAUS.
I love that word. Klaus. So nervy and shrill. And another thing I love about Klaus (the game) are the words that precede it: a prompt telling me that this game uses that most maligned and forgotten of inputs, the PS4's touchpad. And not just as an obligingly easy to access inventory button, either: it uses it as a touchpad. Even the on-board speaker gets a bit of love, producing various mutterings and grunts as you work through increasingly devious 2D platforming levels. Well played, Klaus, well played.
Klaus! Klaus is new on PS4, and yet I almost missed it. Whatever you might want to say about the bad old days when indie games were a once-a-week rarity on consoles, it's worth remembering that back then, a game of Klaus's obvious quality would not fall through the cracks quite as easily. With its garish limited colour palette and its ingenious twist on something that's also warmly familiar, Klaus is a game that's easy to love. So long as you spot it, of course.
The deal is simple: run, double-jump and dodge spikes, but also don't expect to settle into too much of a flow. Klaus is all about disorientation, both with the levels that throw new game-changing ideas at you with alarming regularity, and with a central mechanic that sees you using the touchpad every now and then to interact with certain on-screen elements: doors that need a tap to open, platforms that must be pushed along rails or spun. All of this combines with the other elements as inventively as you might hope for - Klaus, like VVVVVV, can get a quite a lot out of the humble spike pit - but even on their own they have done their job. Klaus is a game about being wrong-footed, I think, and every now and then the movement from thumbstick to touchpad gives you an ideal little cognitive speed bump, even before you start to ponder what the on-screen text that appears to be talking to you is all about, about who your avatar is and who you are in relation to him.
Twists? Plenty. Early on, I discovered a secret area, for example, in which I could only move left, and that transformed the landscape of interactive platforms and railways into something very like a machine. Later on, I found the first of many levels which actually was a machine - a single-screen affair where I had to coax a key down from a very high ledge, not by platforming so much as manipulating platforms I couldn't otherwise reach.
That's just the start of it. I haven't played much of Klaus yet, but I've already come to realise that every few minutes the rules will change and I will need to relearn everything. Nothing can be taken for granted here. Maybe Klaus isn't the only one who's feeling nervy.
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