Klonoa and his imp compatriot Huepow are in a spot of bother. Emperor Jillius is suffering from a terrible illness that prevents him from sleeping, and having been deprived of that sweet embrace, he has unreasonably forbidden his subjects to dream. To Klonoa's surprise he has been hauled in front of the Emperor, whose pompous advisor Bagoo decides that if Klonoa can defeat the four monsters ravaging the Empire, his execution will be cancelled.
To dismiss Klonoa as yet another platform game with a daft plot would be an insult to Namco's brilliance. The story may be worse than the average episode of Home & Away, without the redeeming features of a group of tasty young strumpets in bikinis, but the game demands serious thought and the emphasis is most definitely on puzzles.
There is no aimless collection of scattered coins and stars, and by puzzles I do not mean a series of pipes only one of which takes you to the end of the level. Everything in Klonoa is there for a reason, and it's worth remembering that. Klonoa himself can do a limited jump, hover Dumbo style using his enormous floppy ears, and by firing a wind bullet he can incapacitate bad guys, hurling them to the ground and springing from them to reach higher platforms. Using dazed enemies is often the solution to a puzzle, and they can be thrown some distance to hit switches. Klonoa can also stack boxes, and certain areas of the game require the ear-addled youngster to balance weights in various places.
The puzzles are split across a number of puzzle levels, with 30 blue gems to collect throughout each in order to achieve 100 percent. Some of the levels are slightly more challenging with 100 gems, but the game never becomes tiring or frustrating. Often it's a case of thinking puzzles through carefully and laterally, but I never once tossed my GameBoy away in disgust. Which is a good thing really, because it would be much harder to review things with a broken console.
Because puzzles are often irreparably spoilt through simple trial and error (moving a box down a passage and then not being able to move it back is a good example), players can restart any stage mid-game, and although the game features a life meter, 1-ups are not too hard to find, and it's a fairly straight, narrow and never menacingly difficult 10 hour journey from beginning to end. It is likely that having completed the game, players will want to spend time attaining 100 percent on the more difficult levels, and trying out the time trial levels which open up after a successful completion.
Although Klonoa looks fairly basic, it is coloured vividly and uses a lot of the system's lesser-known features, such as rotation and camera zoom, complemented by a fairly enjoyable soundtrack. Klonoa even boasts voice samples borrowed verbatim from the PlayStation version of the game, which are surprisingly clear. At one point on the tube an old chap sat next to me lent over and asked what this Jillius fella's problem was. He's just cranky.
Klonoa is an excellent little game, wonderfully suited to the handheld format. Mostly puzzling, but sometimes action-orientated and with the odd colourful boss encounter along the way, it's an enjoyable, thinking man's platformer, with a bigger lifespan than your average £40 console release. Klonoa stands to become a regular fixture on the GameBoy Advance, with at least two other games in development, and deservedly so.