“Whimsy” is the dominant word to describe the experience across the two titles in the Klonoa Phantasy Reverie collection. In so many ways these two games represent the platforming genre at its most perfect, with intricately entertaining levels wrapped up with a charming efficiency of character and design. It’s a pity that the series has tapped out at just the two games at this stage, though perhaps this remaster is a sign of a revival on the horizon.
In the package you get a remake of the original Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and Klonoa 2: Lunatea’s Veil. These have been updated to allow for 4K resolution and 60 fps speed, and to enhance the gameplay there has been a two-player co-operative mode added, as well as adjustable difficulty. These are relatively straightforward and obvious additions to make to games that have otherwise been left untouched, but then Klonoa never needed touching up. They may not have sold particularly well on their initial run 20+ years ago, but both have developed a very positive reputation in the years since, and for good reason.
It’s the level design that really makes both Klonoa games what they are, with some of the most vibrant, free-flowing and dynamic platformer levels this side of a Nintendo production. In both cases the platforming takes place in “2.5 dimensions”, meaning that while you are on a largely linear, left-to-right path, that path can (and frequently does) wind into the foreground and background, giving the perception of interaction with the third dimension. There’s also the occasional puzzle that requires you to interact with the foreground and background too, ensuring that you’re constantly paying attention to everything going on in a level, rather than what is occurring on a single linear plane. It’s done cleverly, organically, and fluidly, and results in an experience where every new level is an opportunity for surprising joy – an opportunity the developers took full advantage of.
There is so much going on in the typical Klonoa level! Every level, at every point, is poping with bright, bubbly energy. It can be difficult – especially for those that have become comfortable with the generous checkpoints and plentiful lives in modern platformers. However, the difficulty never becomes frustrating nor infuriating thanks to that good-natured presentation and charm. What is a little annoying is how well some of the collectibles are hidden, though, and while Klonoa isn’t anywhere near as egregious as some other “collect-a-thon” platformers, the game was nonetheless designed in such a way as to send players with OCD tendencies into a spin.
The Klonoa games came out at a time where early experiments with 3D platforming were wowing people, and the likes of Crash, Spyro and Mario 64/Banjo Kazooie were bamboozling audiences. We’ve got remasters of all of those games too, but in 2022, they are purely for the nostalgic, because aesthetically and in terms of gameplay, 3D platforming has come very far from those days. 2D platfoming, meanwhile, hasn’t changed to anywhere near the same degree, and consequently Klonoa feels much more timeless in the hands. It also helps that the gameplay itself is relatively simple, yet refined to a very precise degree. Klonoa’s central concept is that the titular main character can “capture” enemies using a special power ring, and then either toss them at other enemies, or throw them at objects or other such puzzles in the world to make progress, and the vast bulk of the experience is focused on giving players a wide range of ways to play with that mechanic, rather than constantly adding more gimmicks into the mix.
On a superficial level that’s not much different to Kirby, but Klonoa does have a different texture, especially when it comes to the jumping mechanics. By himself, the little guy can only jump once, but when he’s holding an enemy, he can use that enemy to propel him into a second jump and the all-important double jump mechanic kicks in. This is often used to make things challenging with some pixel-perfect jumping involved, especially when it comes to collecting the “optional” extras, but once you get into the groove of it, the flow is excellent. .
In fact, outside of the collecting, so much of both Klonoa titles seem to have been built for speed-running, long before speed-running was a streaming-fueled standard approach to platforming thing. Some of the jumping and puzzle sequences rely on a complex and perfectly-timed sequence of button presses. This might not be the way I like to play my games, but I can appreciate the bounding energy that comes with that.
As far as the plot and storytelling goes, you’re not playing these games for that, but there is still something pleasant and entertaining behind them, at least. There’s a dreamlike fantasy about both game’s narratives and, coupled with the unintelligible “mascot speak” that was popular back then (see Banjo Kazooie), it’s all quite charming. The interactions between characters are also filled with good-natured humour and even the occasional dad joke. Meanwhile, you’re not going to forget the boss battles in a hurry, because they are inevitably introduced in a delightfully twee manner.
The passage of time can sometimes be kind to classic games. Where Klonoa was once compared unfavourably to the far more “innovative” platformers that were doing the rounds, perhaps now it can be judged on its own merits instead, and while neither of the two Klonoa games are especially flashy or spectacular, the subtle and nuanced whimsy that sits at their core offers a particularly potent foil to the self-seriousness that far too many modern games – even platformers – express. Whether you’re replaying these for nostalgia or discovering them for the first time, Klonoa’s going to win you over with this collection.