After its Japanese release 6 months ago, HarmoKnight has finally made its way to Europe and the US. From Nintendo’s 2nd party developer Game Freak, the studio behind the omnipresent Pokemon series. This game is not like Pokemon however. Rather than being a slow and methodical RPG, Harmoknight is a fast-paced rhythm platformer. Now, I’m not saying that there are no ties between the two series, but more on that later.
In HarmoKnight you take control of Tempo, a young boy who is training to be a HarmoKnight in the land of Melodia. When he and his Rabbit companion Tappy witness a meteor full of evil robots called Noizoids crash to the earth, they set off on a quest to bring a magical note staff to the Princess Ariela. Along the way they meet Lyra, a beautiful archer and Tyko and Cymbi, a drummer and his monkey companion. Essentially this is your typical save-the-princess affair, but riddled with musical puns.
The story is told through slightly animated cartoon pictures that evoke classic cartoon network shows. The artstyle and characters are charming and unique. The writing is humerous (though occasionally less so than the writer’s might think) and the story is cute and enjoyable.
Graphically the game is great; the character models are big and vibrant and they have few jagged edges that seem to plague many polygonal characters on the system. The enemies and scenery are well designed, though some more variation would have been nice. One enemy in particular is altered slightly for each world (a pig-thing with an eyepatch is still a pig-thing guys).
This is game where the 3D effect really adds to the experience. Rather than staying at a side-scrolling perspective the whole time the camera moves around, giving more depth the the world of Melodia. The backgrounds are fantastic, almost distractingly so; the Paralax screen is at its best here, displaying cityscapes and vast expanses of land in the far distance. I honestly tend to keep the 3D on low or even off when playing most games, but for HarmoKnight it’s always on.
The gameplay though is what really sells HarmoKnight. Tempo is always running from left to right, and it is your job to jump and attack enemies to collect notes. Comparisons have been drawn to Bit. Trip Runner, and they are not unwarranted, but where Runner is about complete precision and memorization, HarmoKnight focuses much more on creating the song. The music is made by collecting notes, bashing enemies, and hitting instruments as you pass them. The timing can occasionally feel a bit unforgiving and will probably leave you wondering what you did wrong, but once you get it down there are few things more satisfying than going through a level and completing the entire song correctly.
The music matches the visuals well enough that you can almost play with your eyes closed, in fact the game will occasionally obscure an obstacle and expect you to predict it through the music. That meshing of the gameplay and the soundtrack is important in a rhythm game, and it is very effective in this one. The compositions themseves are reminiscent of SNES era platformers, or perhaps a Sanrio show like Hello Kitty; very Japanese, and almost sickly sweet. The music isn’t bad per say, but I doubt anyone would pick up the soundtrack.
Most levels will have you play as Tempo, but a handful are played as one of the other characters. A few more of these would have been nice, but even within the levels played as Tempo there is no shortage of variety. There are levels where you ride on a mine cart, levels where you climb a mountain, levels where you have a dance contest with a mermaid and levels with branching paths. Perhaps the best levels in the game however, are the boss battles.
For such a cute looking game, the boss battles are almost uncharacteristically serious. The camerawork in these levels is simply epic, and the boss monsters are giant and scary. These levels almost feel more like interactive movies than games, but unlike quick-time events that are so prevelent in games these days, the gameplay hasn’t changed that much, just the perspective. The music during boss battles is also noticeably more interesting. The boss battles are really the highlight of the game, and my only complaint is that there are not more of them.
This game has a lot of content, especially for the price, but like most rhythm games what you get out of HarmoKnight is largely up to you. Each of the levels is a few minutes long, and can be accessed time and time again very easily for replay value. Once you achieve a gold rating on a level, you get access to play it in fast mode. If you thought you mastered a level, try it in fast mode and see how you do. For those of us who obsess over playing each track over and over until we achieve perfect scores in rhythm games, this game is perfect.
Now, remember when I mentioned that there was a link between this game and Pokemon? Well let me tell you about the bonus stages. There are six unlockable levels in this game, each with a well-known track from the Pokemon series. Playing through a level set to the Gym Battle theme is a joy, and the Pokemon themed balloons and scenery in the background are a nice touch. Even if you are not a fan of Pokemon, these are some of the best levels in the game.
HarmoKnight is a blast to play. The story, characters and music are charming, if a little bit too cute. The visuals are great and the 3D effect is a prime example on the console. The gameplay is fun and fast paced, and the music matches it perfectly; though the timing can be overly tricky at times. The boss battles are epic and exciting, and the levels have a lot of variety. This game has a lot to offer, especially for the price; HarmoKnight is one of the best on an already lengthy list of great 3DS Eshop games.
Agree or disagree with this review? Let us know in the comments section below.
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This article was first posted on April 6, 2013