In this age of gaming, there are a number of companies that are known for an ubiquitous franchise; while companies like Square-Enix and Naughty Dog have made other projects than their most popular series (Final Fantasy and Crash Bandicoot/Uncharted), Nintendo subsidiary Game Freak has been sticking to the well-known Pokémon series for a while now; the last non-Pokémon related title created by the company was Drill Dozer in 2005, so new IPs for the company have been pretty sparse. However, with the release of 3DS download HarmoKnight, the developer has finally hit a sweet spot in finding a new audience with addictive gameplay, a loveable aesthetic, and a sense of whimsy that reminds gamers about the charm that can only come from the guys that made the juggernaut that is Pokémon.
HarmoKnight strides into lighter territory when it comes to the story, as it’s not a main focus of the game itself. Young warrior Tempo and loveable rabbit Tappy are tasked with bringing harmony in the land of Melodia after a mysterious meteor unleashes big bad Gargan and an assortment of creatures known as Noizoids. Along the way, the duo are joined by Lyra, a tough woman that has great sharpshooting skills with her bow, and Tyko and Cymbi, another man/animal duo that are strong with their drum and cymbal. It’s reminiscent of Pokémon in that the story isn’t gleaned upon; there are basic elements, so it’s fully functional yet somewhat barebones.
Gameplay is relatively easy to pick up and play, as most rhythm games should be; most levels are played with two buttons (with a select few requiring use of the directional pad), one for jumping and one for whacking things with the character’s staff. Players will have to alternate between the two to avoid various enemies on screen, as they will deplete the heart meter (which is five hits by default, though it can be temporarily expanded to eight). While it seems to employ fixed scrolling, since the characters are locked into moving forward, players need to follow the beat in order to succeed in traversing the colorful environments HarmoKnight has to offer. As simple as it is, the game is quite enjoyable, with different sorts of gimmicks to change up the gameplay; visual cues to obscure the screen are common, as are differences in the time signature; at the end of most worlds there are boss battles that morph the game from platforming to a “Simon Says” sort of playing style. These tend to be longer than average levels, and are a treat to watch as well as play.
The main draw of the game is the variety of music, and it doesn’t disappoint; the main theme for the game is remixed throughout the eight different worlds, all with a different theme; from metal to jazz, there are a variety of different sounds to explore. Since the developer of the game is the same company that is in charge of the Pokémon franchise, there are a smattering of tunes from that series as well. The graphics are colorful and lighthearted, which matches the overall mood of the game; the 3D implementation also helps with the presentation, with certain objects being highlighted in the foreground. This is actually helpful, as some levels rely on the usage of foreground and background elements to traverse the stage. It’s one of the better uses of 3D on the handheld.
HarmoKnight is one of those games that makes you want more, but doesn’t necessarily make you feel burned. Most of the elements, especially the levels regarding the other main characters, are barely touched upon and could have benefited from a retail release, but these flaws are understandable because of the distribution method. Almost all of the stages are finished quite quickly, and leaves players just desiring more of the music. While the game is short and sweet, it would have been better if the levels, a little over 50, were fewer and lengthier. About three quarters of the game’s soundtrack consist of music a little under two minutes each, and some worlds are over in a flash, so it would have been a better choice to have consolidated musical genres. It really would have been an interesting mixture; jazz rock? Cool.
The difficulty is also somewhat schizophrenic; the game is a breeze up until the final few levels, and becomes absolutely brutal during the bonus stages, which require an innate sense of timing that wasn’t present anywhere else in the game. To further exacerbate the problem, there’s no permanent way to increase the number of hearts available, so players will be stuck with the same five to eight hit point range for the entirety of the game. It would have been nice to provide a power-up system to assist with trickier parts of the game. Clearing levels isn’t too hard as well; while each level has a predetermined amount of notes one has to get in order to receive a royal note, which could be likened to stars, the actual amount is easily attainable. Getting to the end however…
An option for downloadable content ala Theatrhythm Final Fantasy would have been a welcome addition too. Like that game, HarmoKnight has a vast catalogue of music to select from, even if it’s just from the Pokémon series. Hopefully the developer can update the title and hopefully expand upon this concept, as it would be cool to delve into more of Nintendo’s intellectual properties.
At $14.99, this downloadable game hits most of the right notes with its addictive gameplay and colorful graphics. While it does lack in substance and difficulty, it’s a musically fun experience that everyone can enjoy; no doubt HarmoKnight will tide gamers over until they catch ‘em all with Pokémon X /Y later in the year.