Wind Bullet Beneath My Wings (Klonoa series)

There’s no such thing as too much cute. While my teeth have been rotted away by the sugar sweetness of Kirby, I can’t help but dive into the dream land of another. Klonoa: Empire of Dreams and Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament are two candy coated romps and I can’t help but pour them straight into my gum holes.

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What makes these two Game Boy Advance games so interesting is that they eschew the genre the series was founded upon, the sidescrolling platformer, and in the process became niche sequels to an already unpopular game. Problem is, these two Klonoa games are some of the genres best, and stand out from the series they grew from.

Klonoa: Empire of Dreams and Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament were puzzle platformers before it was cool. Nothing is physics driven, and there’s no “interesting” art style; it’s just you playing as a cat boy who loves to toss dudes around. It looks and feels from another time, what with its mascot character hopping and bopping around brightly coloured environments, grabbing ahold of enemies that are nearly as cute as himself. While I drew comparisons to Kirby earlier, the element of difficulty is where they split; and don’t worry, Klonoa isn’t easier than Kirby.

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While they have their differences, the two GBA games play the same. As Klonoa, players grab onto enemies and various blocks (using what the game badassedly refers to as a “wind bullet”), toting them around puzzle rooms before putting them to use. Enemies can be used to reach higher elevations by allowing a double jump, or tossed at other enemies to clear the way. Blocks can be used to hold down switches, or stacked to achieve new heights. Of course, as the game goes on the tools available to you grow in number, but Klonoa’s moveset remains the same. As I’ve made clear in the past, a game that begins and ends with the same abilities are favourites of mine (Punch-Out!!, Yumi’s Odd Odyssey). It challenges the developer to build a game around an evolving skillset, and naturally allows the player to feel empowered. If a game’s primary mechanic can last throughout an entire game and still be fun, then it’s a clear sign that the developer is onto something.

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The flow of the puzzles in these Klonoa games are built with the Game Boy Advance in mind; while the levels are large as a whole, each is composed of a few rooms. Each of these rooms is a self contained puzzle, and each houses their own bits of collectibles to obtain. These extra trinkets (in the form of jewels and coins) are placed with a careful hand. While you may be on your way to the room’s exit, a little extra work yields the reward. It’s a tough decision to make, as sometimes I had just passed a rather tricky sequence only to have to double back and make it harder on myself to get a trinket.

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Each of these games break up the puzzle platforming pace with “surfboard” sequences, although the two handle it differently. Empire of Dreams keeps the game’s sidescrolling perspective, with players taking care of Klonoa’s jumps as he hurdles through a stage. Dream Champ Tournament puts the camera behind or in front of Klonoa as he makes his way to his destination. Neither approach is poor, but both games may have been better served without them. The surfboard appears to be an aspect of Klonoa’s “edginess”, a holdover from the latter days of the mascot. Klonoa’s backwards cap was enough ‘tude for me.

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Something many puzzle platformers struggle with is boss battles. Forcing a game’s puzzle mechanics onto a boss fight often leads to a miserable experience, or at least one that feels out of place (Mighty Switch Force! and A Boy And His Blob for the Wii come to mind). The Klonoa games managed to surprise me in this respect, as their pace worked well and Klonoa’s ability to throw items is put into good use. While fun, Empire of Dreams‘s encounters are the run of the mill “chip away at their health bar until they’re dead and buried”. Dream Champ Tournament mixes the events up, having a timer running as they race towards the exit. Some battles require beating the boss to the finish line, while others have you stop along the way and damage them before the race continues.

The Klonoa games came at an odd time, a period where we had moved beyond the platforming mascot, especially those that lacked the attitude found in Crash Bandicoot. Perhaps now more than ever we’re more accepting of this type of experience, a cute puzzle platformer that doesn’t need to mutilate a child ala Limbo to stand out from the pack. Thankfully that chance may come, as Empire of Dreams was rated by the Australian Classification Board. The same occurred with Mr. Driller 2, which will be seeing a release in Europe this Thursday, so it seems likely that Klonoa will have another shot at the spotlight. Let’s not let him down.

 

 

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My Top 10 Favourite Handheld RPGs

With Bravely Default being the talk of the town, I figured it was best to share my favourite handheld RPGs. Although, doing so is a fool’s game; I can’t imagine you’ll be able to put Bravely Default down long enough to read this, let alone commit to another 20+ hours long RPG.

Since these are personal favourites, save any potential scorn for a more definitive list (TOP 10 RPGs EVER!). Your favourite not here? Perhaps I never played it. Maybe I think it’s a dud. Hell, I could even own it but am drowning in enough of an RPG backlog as it is. Fill me in on some of your favourites on Twitter (I’m @tylerohlew) or in the comment section below. Maybe you can turn me onto a game I’ve never even heard of!

Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VIISquare Enix – PSP

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It’s great that something good came out of the Final Fantasy VII Compilation. These kinds of projects tend to cash in us weak willed fans, and with games like Dirge of Cerberus kicking the festivities off, it appeared Square-Enix’s efforts were no different.

Crisis Core is more a more action oriented affair, which puts it in line with works like the Kingdom Hearts series. Even still, the RPG tropes we love make the transition. Battles aren’t about mashing an attack button, but about working your way through the enemies with the most suiting decisions. Who you attack and with what is as important as ever, with enemy weaknesses, Action Points, and status affects playing as much a role as the more traditional Final Fantasy games. Spicing things up is a slot-machine that doles out power ups and Limit Breaks as the battle wages on.

Importantly, Crisis Core doesn’t forget the hardware it’s running on. It’s story unfolds in missions, which are broken up and peppered with save points. This works wonderfully on the PSP, and allows players to accomplish a lot with little investment.

It also features some of the hottest male eyebrows you’ll ever see. Does Zack get them waxed, or threaded? A friend wants to know.

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Pink’s Not Dead

Nintendo isn’t afraid to goof around with its mascot characters, throwing them around from genre to genre and seeing what sticks. Mario is best described by the titles he hasn’t held; he’s been a Doctor, a referee, a golfer, a tennis player, and a teacher (my keyboard skills certainly improved). As Nintendo has said, it’s a way for the company to experiment, while still keeping that wide appeal its creations have. The formula works, and we’ve received many great games from this dabbling.

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But I’d argue that none adhere to these changes as well as Kirby. While Mario appears to be a jack of all trades, I don’t feel his forays into golf, tennis and the party scene are intrinsically ‘Mario’. They’re quality games, for sure, but a proper Mario adventure isn’t just about Chain-Chomps and Super Mushrooms. Throwing a warp pipe on a golf course doesn’t nail what makes Mario special.

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Twisted Pixels

It’s difficult to see Wario like this, his signature line of microgames reduced to ‘launch window’ proof of concepts. Game & Wario isn’t the abomination you’ve been lead to believe, but it certainly isn’t what we’ve come to expect out of the WarioWare series.

While I’m hardly qualified to point out where and what went wrong with the series, I’m more than comfortable in extolling the virtues of its finest installment. Yes, I’m talking about WarioWare Twisted!.

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