Review by kobalobasileus

Reviewed: 02/17/09

A 2D Holdout in a 3D World (retroview)

Review: Klonoa: Door to Phantomile

I initially passed up on Klonoa: Door to Phantomile when it was new, thinking it was “just another platformer.” The NES and SNES had taught gamers to go for only the best games in each genre or risk being overwhelmed by mediocrity or worse.

Little did we know that 2D platformers, long perceived as the ever-present rats in the ship of videogames, were soon to be driven to the brink of extinction. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile was one of the last of its kind, and I have finally had the opportunity to play it, two console generations after its release. So, how does Klonoa withstand the test of time?

Before I start, I’d like to make note of the fact that I played this game on a 60GB PS3 using a Dual Shock 3 controller. Therefore, my perception of the game may be influenced by the fact that I played it on hardware other than what it was originally designed for.

First, let’s look at presentation. Klonoa has a fairly solid graphics engine for its time. It doesn’t look very impressive now, with lots of low-resolution textures, blocky polygons, and pixilated sprites, but the PS3’s upscaling does a good job of making the game look playable and presentable. All of the backdrops and bosses are rendered in polygons, whereas the non-boss characters are rendered in quasi-3D sprites, not unlike those seen in Donkey Kong Country. While technologically limited, both the 3D and 2D aspects are lively and full of character. Thankfully, polygon flicker and clipping, two of my most-hated peeves from the PS1 generation, are non-existent.

The sound, likewise, has the same pros and cons as the visuals. The music and sound effects are catchy and appropriate, but everything sounds fuzzy, like the audio has a bad case of speaker hiss (likely caused by compression). The strongest point in Klonoa’s audio presentation is the fictional language spoken by the characters during dialog scenes. It is neither Japanese nor English, yet it remarkably able to convey what is going on. By the time I completed the game, I had the sense that I could vaguely understand what the characters were saying, even without looking at the subtitles. The voice acting that goes along with this fictional language is solid, but heavily skewed toward the squeaky and cute. If you have a low tolerance for high-pitched voices, the dialog might be bothersome.

Since this is a PS1 title, it is also important to note the FMV segments. They are well animated and look sharp despite their age. They are also remarkably free of rendering artifacts. The only negative about the FMV sequences is that they look much cleaner and sharper than the graphics in the actual gameplay engine.

The story of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile has some remarkably weighty moments. I wish to avoid spoilers here, so I’ll just leave it at that. The story overall isn’t particularly innovative, as it consists of a Big Bad kidnapping a priestess in order to reshape the world in his own image. There is a recurring Bumbling Henchman as well, who adds some humor. The most unique aspect of the story is the relationship between the titular Klonoa and Huepow, the Ring Spirit. It gives the game a bit of a ‘buddy movie” vibe.

Of course, gamers rarely play platformers for the story, we play them for the gameplay. Klonoa: Door to Phantomile made a daring move in the age when every new platformer tried to ape Mario64 and have the player wander around large, ugly, empty 3D environments with an uncooperative camera. Klonoa kept the 2D gameplay of old, but with a twist: 2.5D. As mentioned in the presentation section, all of the backgrounds in the game are 3D. Yet Klonoa only moves on a 2D plain. He can run from side to side (only the D-pad is supported, not the analog stick), or jump up and down. That’s all. The paths that Klonoa follows through the levels can wrap around 3D objects and even intersect with themselves. The result is that, by pressing the right D-pad button, Klonoa might run up a spiral or follow a loop and eventually be moving on a path that, moments ago, was in the foreground and background. 2.5D gameplay like this gives the immersiveness of 3D graphics without the difficulties of bad camera angles and awkward movement controls.

In addition to his traditional movement scheme, Klonoa has an interesting attack that covers most of the non-jumping gameplay and is even factored into the jumping gameplay in the later levels. This attack is Huepow, the Ring Spirit. Huepow is a little green… thing that lives on Klonoa’s giant gold ring. By pressing the attack button, Klonoa launches Huepow in front of himself. If Huepow hits a small enemy, that enemy gets inflated like a balloon and dragged back to Klonoa, who picks it up and holds it overhead. Klonoa can use inflated enemies as projectiles or he can use them as launchpads for a limited double-jump. Larger enemies can’t be grabbed, but the can be inflated into harmlessness and used as platforms.

Though the 2.5D foundation of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is solid, there are a couple gameplay aspects that are flawed. The first is Klonoa’s jump. Unlike in every other platformer ever made, Klonoa jumps the same height no matter how long you press the jump button. Holding the jump button instead causes Klonoa to flail around in mid-air to get some hang time. Unfortunately, this flailing completely kills his forward momentum from the jump, frequently resulting in death by bottomless pit.

Another significant flaw is the save and lives system. Klonoa starts the game with a handful of extra lives, but more can be easily gathered by collecting gems and medals. The problem is that saving between levels locks in the number of lives in reserve at that time. So if a player gets to the final level with only 1 life in reserve, then dies and continues off of that save, the player will still only have 1 life to work with. Thanks to the fact that you can’t backtrack and gather more lives until you complete the game, it can be impossible to finish the game with a small number of lives in reserve. I, personally, had to replay the game from the beginning so I had more than 3 lives available for the final level.

Finally, the difficulty of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is uneven. Most of the game is fairly easy. However, the difficulty spikes in the last few levels, which could be frustrating for players who enjoyed the easygoing gameplay and lighter difficulty of the early and middle levels. The bonus level that is unlocked by rescuing all the hostages in each of the other levels is brutally difficult, as any mistake means instant death.

Overall, I enjoyed Klonoa: Door to Phantomile. The excellent use of 2.5D gameplay and the cute characters kept me interested even when the endgame was mercilessly killing me with cheap deaths due to iffy jumping controls. I recommend Klonoa: Door to Phantomile to anyone who likes old-school 2D platformers and isn’t put-off by cuteness and squeakiness.

Overall (not an average): 7/10
Presentation: 8/10
Story: 7/10
Gameplay: 7/10

Rating:   3.5 - Good

Product Release: Klonoa: Door to Phantomile (US, 06/30/98)

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