Review by SneakTheSnake

Reviewed: 03/10/15

A fun action / rhythm hybrid with a lot of heart.

There are many music games which deal with rhythm or producing music, but only recently, it seems, have few dare to combine action elements with the rhythm. Harmoknight may be a wise pick-up for rhythm games fans if you’re willing to drop the dough.

Harmoknight follows the adventures of Tempo. Tempo is a young boy who accidentally comes across a magical staff which grants users great powers, including the ability to vanquish great foes. Initially, Tempo is tasked with traveling to Symphony City to return the staff to its potential rightful owner, but an evil being named Gargan wants to turn everyone on the planet, including the beautiful princess, into hideous beings called Noizoids.

In a fun, Wizard of Oz-type fashion, Tempo comes across other talented people who come to join him on his quest. It’s hinted early on that he could be a legendary Harmoknight because he shows great skill and… then he is one. There isn’t much character development; Tempo just supposedly becomes stronger and more adept at using the staff. Despite the narrative being a weak point, I find the game to be very heavy on exposition and text. If the story is this simple, I don’t see why it should have been so wordy.

This is a music-based runner. All of Tempo’s actions are dictated by the music’s… well, tempo. In most of the fifty stages, Tempo is running at a steady clip, automatically. Players can make Tempo jump and swing his staff at oncoming enemies. Obstacles come in the way and you control Tempo as he jumps, strikes and charge-strikes anything in his way. In the middle of some stages, players take control of Tyko, a heavy-hitter with two hitboxes instead of one, and Lyra, an archer who strikes at enemies in the background in an over-the-shoulder view while dodging projectiles in the foreground. You lose the stage if you deplete your health bar by bumping into too many enemies or if you fall into a bottomless pit.

The result is a seamless blend of music and action, and it works fairly well. The game does well at switching up the gameplay every once in a while; in addition to multiple playable characters in certain stages and a few different types of vehicle and boss encounters, Harmoknight rarely goes a few stages without introducing something new and fresh.

Take the minecart levels, for example. In these, Tempo and his pal Tappy are in a minecart shaped like one of those cymbal-banging monkey toys. The wheels can be raised or lowered to collect notes, but holding the attack button can also take care of foes right in front of the cart as the two friends zip along the track. The music’s tempo changes as the cart goes faster and slower, up and down the hills, dips and loop-de-loops along the track. The experience isn’t quite exhilarating, but it’s exciting and interesting. To its credit, Harmoknight is a very creative game as far as set-pieces, enemy design and backgrounds are concerned.

There are also boss encounters, but these are more grating. In these, the game takes a “call and answer” approach like Space Channel 5; the boss spouts out commands and the player must repeat them in time to the music. These irk me a bit; there’s no consistency in when repetition sequences start and end, and these sequences seem to go on longer because, despite having fewer cues, players must repeat the start and end cutscenes with every playthrough instead of just jumping right into the action. Seeing as these tend to be harder than many of the action stages, it becomes grating to have to watch the same boss reveal video multiple times after getting hit enough to deplete your health bar.

I like the gameplay model that Harmoknight has in place. The game uses the synchronicity between the gameplay and the music very well, which makes the songs really fun to run through. Even in the most difficult stages, there is something to enjoy about what Harmoknight has to offer; the game offers that classic and all-too-rewarding sense of accomplishment when working hard enough to score a good ranking or, in some of the last stages, to just make it through the stage to begin with.

Most of the levels aren’t so long that I’m unmotivated to keep trying. Indeed, the ranking system and the short-but-sweet levels make me want to consistently try harder to improve my score. There’s some memorization involved, and sometimes the camera and perspective change in the level so I can’t see where my character is in relation to certain notes or enemies scattered about the field; in that regard, there’s some trial and error. By and large, though, I feel that whatever I fail at in Harmoknight is my own fault. The game encourages players through its rankings to keep going at it, and I ended up high-scoring and trying to ace most of the levels in the game’s thematically varied campaign. Indeed, completing the game will take seasoned gamers about five or six hours, but the gameplay and music are amusing enough, I would think, to encourage players to come back every now and then.

What gives the game legs is its ranking system. Tempo collects notes in each stage; they can be found lying around the level and can also be earned by defeating enemies that Tempo whacks with his staff. Charge-attacking these enemies nets two notes instead of one. Players are ranked at the end of each level based on how many notes they can collect; scoring a “Good” rating allows for minimal passing of the stage and a special note (collecting enough of which is a requirement to unlock later stages), but a “Great” rating (collecting a specific amount of notes) unlocks the double-tempo mode of the song. Beating the double-tempo version unlocks concept art. Essentially, players can go through each of the fifty-plus levels twice to get some neat unlockables and, boy, Harmoknight can really throw out some doozies.

A game like this survives on its gameplay almost as much as its soundtrack. Tempo travels through the mountains, the plains, a show-stopping Vegas-type town, a volcanic inferno and even up to the sky. Each environment is associated with a different style of music, but the same melody permeates itself through the level selection screen and the levels themselves. The music is light enough and is never grating; on the other end, it is not particularly catchy either. The only songs that got me excited were in the rock levels, of which there aren’t too many. Fortunately, all of the enemies’ sounds and all outside noises are synchronized to the music. Fans of Pokemon will be happy to find five remixed songs from classic Pokemon titles, complete with appropriately themed graphics in the levels themselves.

Speaking of graphics, I’m very pleased with how Harmoknight looks. It’s not so much that it’s a graphical powerhouse, but the game boasts a colorful and welcoming graphical style. The world of Harmoknight is bright, energetic and exuberant; the characters have adorable designs, the backgrounds pop off the screen with detail and the environments are varied and extremely colorful. This is about the best-looking eShop title I’ve had the pleasure of playing.

Harmoknight is not as much of a rare breed as it may have been had it come out last gen. Thankfully, though, it’s more than just the pedigree of the company or the proudction values that help Harmoknight stick out from similar titles on the 3DS like Rhythm Thief, Gabrielle’s Ghostly Groove, the Theatrhythm series or the Bit.Trip series. The game has a great feel to it; it’s kind of hard to explain. It’s a feel-good game. I appreciate the game for delivering a great sense of charm to its presentation, and it comes out well in the gameplay. Whether the game is worth putting about $15 into is entirely up to the player, and that’s really the only reason I would be on the fence about recommending it.

If money weren’t an object, I can recommend Harmoknight to all fans of action and music titles; it’s a great hybrid that, though lacking in overall gameplay variety in comparison to some of its contemporaries, boasts a great deal of content with a great interface and style. The soundtrack fits the cheery aesthetic very well, and the games exudes charm from all angles. For now, this would make for a great use of Nintendo Points in light of Club Nintendo shutting down, otherwise, I would probably wait for a discount instead of plopping down so much money.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: HarmoKnight (US, 03/28/13)

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