Game Review: Klonoa: Door to Phantomile

May 15, 2009

Old-school players can surely attest to one thing: platformers ruled the '90s. It's where countless heroes made their video game debuts, including the rabbit/cat hybrid, Klonoa. Along with his blue, spherical friend, the duo made a splash on the original PlayStation. Now, 10 years later, Namco's furry dream saver receives a Wii-ified makeover. Is he primped and ready to go once again?

Despite being a decade old, Klonoa's touching story holds up strong today. The fully-voiced prose axes the cutesy talk from the PlayStation days in favor of an English script. The journey begins when Phantomile, a town that houses all the worlds' dreams, is under siege by a dark force. In his starry black cape, the menacing Ghadius, along with his crony Joker, kidnap the magical songstress Lephise and unleash a horde of creatures both deadly and adorable. As the story unfolds, it becomes a nail-biting soap-opera, tackling very adult themes such as betrayal, sacrifice, death, and friendship, ultimately ending with a twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan. There's hardly a dull moment.

Fans of the original can breathe easy; Klonoa's classic side-scrolling roots remain faithfully intact. The layout is simple, but there's one unique twist: Klonoa can interact with both the foreground and background of the 2.5D world as he runs along the fixed pathways, providing an effective level of depth to an otherwise limited plane. The visually-stunning 3D backdrops look great, but Klonoa's movements are kept to simple left and right directions. But despite the relative limitations, the design rarely feels overly restrictive.


Six distinctly-themed areas make up the overworld map, with each area housing two separate stages. Variety abounds due to intricate and well thought-out level design. You'll reach dizzying heights climbing to the top of a castle, slide down grassy hills, carefully maneuver narrow platforms, and even go for a ride in a mine cart. Meanwhile, dead-end pathways can often be broken away to uncover hidden secrets, such as extra lives. With an assortment of puzzles that are designed around either hitting switches or tossing enemies around, there are plenty of ways to give your brain a workout.

When it comes to the enemies, you'll never feel the aching pain of repetition thanks to a cast that's full of colorful baddies. Big, small, fat, flying, and hopping, enemies come in all shapes and sizes. And with several huge boss battles to tackle--each one with a specific strategy to uncover--the game presents a generous mix of exploration and fighting.


Clocking in at under five hours, Klonoa is incredibly short, but sweet. After completing the game, you're awarded with a host of bonuses, including alternate costumes and a movie viewer. But the real prize is a pair of alternate game modes that you can unlock: time attack, where you can try your hand at any boss to improve your time and share it online, and reverse mode, which challenges you to run through a mirrored version of every level.

Though these bonuses certainly liven up the package, Klonoa's age-old design stands strong in its own right. This is a classic that holds up great today, but its incredibly short length really sabotages it.

With its old-school roots firmly in place, Klonoa is the definition of simplicity. Of the three available control options, classic controller and GameCube pad included, we found holding the Wii remote sideways works best.

Not surprisingly, Klonoa's move set is simple. He can shoot out his ring to grab enemies or objects, and jump. That's it. You'd be surprised, though, by the extent of what you can do with his limited palette. With the ring move, you can snatch enemies, use them to boost your jumps, activate puzzles, or even weapon-ize them.

Klonoa's jump also doubles as a floating ability, where he uses his gigantic ears to briefly fly. It's mapped to a single button press; you just hold it down after a jump, and you start to float. For the most part, it feels very responsive and easy to control. But when you encounter narrow ledges and platforms, the occasional lack of precision will lead to an aggravating death.


Seeing the game in motion, it might all look overly simple, but there's enough depth hidden behind Klonoa's cutesy appeal to give even the most experienced players a run for their money. Deaths come mainly from missed ledges, but almost as often during one of the intense boss battles.

Klonoa's colorful world never misses a beat, and shines brightly throughout each of the many themed stages. The revolving 3D backdrops not only look impressive, but work hand-in-hand with the level design to create a more vibrant and lively world to explore. Little intricate details abound. You'll see brilliant sparkling water in the background, a waterfall that flows upside-down, and spectacular battles with bosses that fill the entire screen. The game looks simply gorgeous, especially on a HDTV, running in widescreen 480p . Our only gripe is that the music doesn't dip down during cut-scenes, overpowering some of the quieter voices. But that doesn't change the fact that Klonoa is one of the more impressive looking games on the Wii.

The Wii remake of Klonoa smartly left the original's essentials alone, expanding the formula with a vibrant, refreshed look, and a world that not only looks a lot better, but moves more fluidly. With plenty of variety, memorable boss battles, and a charming story, this is one ride you can't afford to miss...even if it is a rather short one.

Reviewed on Nintendo Wii.