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The Ten: Updated Wednesdays-Fridays-Sundays

Thursday, April 18, 2013

"Sorta Fresh" Review: HarmoKnight

The sound effects in this game are hilarious and addicting.
So, the guys who made Pokemon made a rhythm platformer. Pretty cool, I suppose- it's more of a testament to how Game Freak handles new ideas in the office. If someone has a good idea in the office and gets enough support, they allow the game to go into development. Hopefully, we'll see this system result in some new ideas from Game Freak. HarmoKnight is the first example of this system.

Tempo and Tappy live in the magical world of Melodia, a place that, if you haven't already guessed, is music themed. However, a  meteor plummets into the planet, bringing the deadly Noizoids with it. Tempo discovers a magical staff able to repel the Noizoids and sets off on a journey to defeat the discord that has spread through the land.

It's quite a predictable story that supports its gameplay mechanics, so there's no complaining there. Characters are one-note (oh gosh, I made a pun) and don't really push the envelope all that much, but the story can't be the main focus of a platformer- it's the gameplay that matters. The player progresses through the levels without stopping, only able to interact with the environment in specific ways. The control scheme is relatively simple- Tempo can jump with the A Button and strike with the B Button, and holding down the B Button allows Tempo to charge his attack so that he can gain an extra note upon striking an enemy. Notes are important to gameplay, as the amount you collect contributes to your rank at the end of a level- if you achieve a "great" ranking at the end of a level, you unlock a faster version, which is often a bit more difficult.

Maybe I've got terrible rhythm, but I found this game hard. I mean, I found Bit.Trip Runner hard too, but this one was pretty tough. Especially the ranking system. In the earlier portions of the game, the ranking system is quite forgiving, but later levels require the use of the cumbersome, but purposely so charge attack and extremely precise timing in order to achieve a "great" ranking. And my gosh, the timing is precise in this game. Hitting enemies too soon won't procure notes- and jumping too soon can result in not even reaching a platform. While this seems like it wouldn't be a problem in a rhythm game, rhythmic timing is very tight and there's no room for error- which can result in many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many deaths. While this sort of thing is standard in rhythm platformers, it's annoying. Especially when the game becomes a extremely tight call-repeat action, which happens quite often. In order to receive a "great" rank in these segments, you need to do every move right- which means one failure if you're going for a perfect run can ruin your rank. These segments are also story-based, so you have to watch cutscenes within them. This is not the best way to design a platformer- we don't need story, especially if we're trying to focus on rhythm. Keep it contained to the rhythm only, then it stands out in our head more.

Wow, I just railed pretty heavily on one part of the game, didn't I? Let's talk about some more positive parts of the game! The gameplay is not very varied, but the way rhythm works into the platforming is really great, with visual and auditory cues  for things. When you get in a groove, you feel it a lot because the rhythm of the game is so precise. It's an impressive difference from games like Bit.Trip because the buttons used in this game are more simplistic, but you are forced to create some interesting rhythms with them. The themes of each "area" you visit- namely, their music styling, are all distinct and neat.

The main flaw about HarmoKnight really is that the variations in rhythmic platforming it presents are vastly inferior to its core, 2d platforming style. Lyra and Tyko aren't interesting enough to add to the experience. The call-return gameplay style is drawn out and far too strict in rating. But it's not a bad game, and features very nice presentation and music- it just has a few annoying ticks that keep it from being truly great. Overall, I'd like to see the concept returned to, and I applaud Game Freak's new IP.

Oh, it has Pokemon music in it, too.

Final Verdict: While HarmoKnight suffers from some stale alternate mechanics, the core of the game is a clever and precise rhythm game with tons of difficulty and fun. It's a nice timesink if you want to complete all forms of each level, including the special versions unlocked after you "great" rank them all. It ultimately does what rhythm games should do quite well, and is definitely worth looking at.

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