Poor Klonoa. The plucky little dog/cat thing has appeared in two well regarded platformers and five spinoffs (two of them well regarded GBA platformers). Yet he has always dwelled in relative obscurity. With the release of the Wii remake of the original Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, nothing much has changed. Klonoa is still unable to light up the charts (and with a cover that looks like a budget release, I can understand why), and he is still able to make a damn fine platformer. Short, sweet, thoroughly gorgeous, they don’t make them like this anymore.
I say that because this is a very strict remake, helmed by many of the original team members. They decided to keep the core game intact, including the levels, story, and even the jibberish Phantomilian language. The benefits of modern gaming technology come only in the form of a complete aesthetic overhaul. The music has been redone (though perhaps not rearranged), as have the graphics. Klonoa uses the same visual style as many other good looking Wii games like Mario Galaxy and Zack and Wiki. Big, rounded objects with cartoonish textures are magnified by gorgeous, colorful lighting. With support for Progressive Scan and widescreen display, the game is absolutely beautiful. Most impressive is its depth of field. The game always makes sure to fill the background with something, whether it be far away objects or parts of the level.
This is significant in a 2.5d game like Klonoa. Anyone who has played a 2d platformer has likely asked themselves why characters only move in one direction through an environment, and why they never travel along the Z-axis. The routes that Klonoa takes may limit him to two dimensional movement, but the polygon based visuals allow them to twist and wind through the level, as if he is actually exploring the whole thing, rather than just a small area. Quite often the walkways you see in the background are places you will visit later on. Aside from looking nice, this approach gives you the sense that Phantomile is a fully realized world worthy of exploration.
It may sound like a bad thing that only the aesthetics saw major change, but this is actually for the better. Klonoa’s simple two button design still works wonderfully today, and maps to every possible control scheme on the Wii. Fans will appreciate coming home to the same game they know and love, while newcomers will embrace the old school formula which eschews excessive amounts of collectibles and secrets in favor of straightforward platforming (your only techniques are to grab enemies and use them to double jump). Namco could have easily added more enemies, minigames, and Waggle controls. Instead they left things the same, save for a Waggle-based attack that you can entirely ignore, and a few Wii exclusive stages that you can access after completion.
Still, to do nothing but praise Klonoa would be to do you a disservice. You really need to know what you are getting in order to determine if this is the game for you. For one, Klonoa is both short and easy. It can be finished at about four hours and the number of lives and health it dishes out ensure that anyone over 20 will not see the Game Over screen even once. If you come to play with Klonoa, make sure you do so for the cheery music and breezy levels. Those looking for a challenge will be sorely disappointed.
Then there is the matter of the story. It is pleasantly straightforward, with a surprisingly bittersweet ending. My issue with it is that ends up being more serious than it needs to. Since the game uses Japanese voice actors to do the Phantomilian language track, the characters are filled with drama and anguish in all the right places. Except, I don’t really expect drama and anguish in such a cutesy game. Otaku will chalk this up to Japanese games and anime being more mature and deep than their Western equivalents, but I see it as two ideologies that don’t really fit well together. If the cutscenes weren’t so drawn out due to slow text scrolling, I could live with it, but ultimately the drama is only ever effective in the very last scene. The rest of the time it feels forced and hokey, like an anime that insists on becoming serious in its last third for the sake of it.
These flaws don’t mar the overall experience, but they do help establish what kind of experience it is. Anyone who grew up with this genre will be tickled pink by Klonoa’s honest, traditional approach, and I still see myself going back to Klonoa half a year from now to replay the stages in reverse (an added feature in this Wii remake). I see it as a “happy place” for the hobby’s old timers, one that is worth returning to once a year or so to remind yourself that video games can still be beautiful and joyous, rather than hateful and stress filled chores that evolve into side jobs. Klonoa is one of the finest games I have seen on the Wii.