HarmoKnight – Review

Title   HarmoKnight
Developer  Game Freak
Publisher  Nintendo
Platform  Nintendo 3DS
Genre  Rhythm Platformer
Release Date  28th March 2013
Official Site  http://harmoknight.nintendo.com/

I bet that if you were to blindfold someone who had played a decent chunk of any Pokémon game and played them some music from it, they would probably be able to place it with some degree of certainty. There’s something about the musical stylings of Game Freak’s titles that lodge them firmly in your mind and, even years after playing some of the older Pokémons, I’ll still find myself humming along to tune from one of them.  Now the Pokémon maestros have turned their eyes to a new IP, one focused more on the music and less on catching animals and forcing them to fight until they’re unconscious. It’s called HarmoKnight, and tells the tale of young trainee knight, Tempo, and his quest to protect the planet of Melodia from the evil Noizoids – aliens who are causing discord in peaceful Melodia.

To be completely honest, however, the story is pretty weak; Tempo discovers a magic weapon once wielded by the historical HarmoKnights but, despite the fact he seems to be in training to become a HarmoKnight himself, his master is an ass and insists that he is not ready, instead sending Tempo and his rabbit companion, Tappy, on a quest to Symphony City in order to find another to wield it.  To get to the city, Tempo has to fight his way through the disrupted inhabitants of Melodia using (you guessed it!) that selfsame staff. When Tempo does eventually arrive at the city, shenanigans occur and he is left in possession of the staff, having to save the day. I bet no-one saw that one coming from a mile away.

The story is pretty terrible, but the real problem is that the characters are crap; none of them are likeable, most of them get on your nerves and Tappy should be taken to a dark room and made to endure a marathon of slasher films. Maybe that will drive that ever-present optimistic gleam from his eyes.  It might be a bit harsh on poor Tappy, but occasionally the overbearing cuteness can get on your nerves – it’s all perfectly sweet to start with but, given enough juvenile interludes, even the most kawaii of characters can drive you to distraction.

Thankfully, the world of Melodia is relentlessly bright and colourful, so even the most annoying of characters look downright fantastic. In fact, even the Noizoids are a rather vivid shade of purple and while they are clearly out of place in Melodia, they are still very easy on the eyes.  That said, for the most part, HarmoKnight left me confused as to who its audience was meant to be. I got the feeling it was aimed at eight year olds, but that suggests that the gameplay is easy. It’s not; it’s hard as balls, or at least it gets to be.

The whole idea of HarmoKnight is that the actions of Tempo sync up to the music that permeates all of Harmonia, and, as its name suggests, everything is meant to be somewhat harmonious, so the closer your moves are to the music, the better you do, which generally means either collecting the purple music notes that suggest the best path for Tempo or taking out enemies – mostly the creatures of Harmonia that have been driven mad by the Noizoids.

The gameplay itself is very simple, with each level scrolling automatically as Tempo runs along. There are only two actions that Tempo can take – a jump or an attack. By listening closely to the tune that plays as the level scrolls, and timing your moves to what soon becomes a clear beat, traversing worlds quickly gains a hugely satisfying rhythm, especially when you do well enough to get a ‘Great’ rating. There are a couple of tricks that can help you do just that, such as the ability to hit the musical-looking plants which have been conveniently placed in the background or charging up an attack to get double the notes from killing an enemy, all of which add a nice layer of depth and make it a little easier to end up with a better rating on every level.

Netting a decent score on a level will also get you a Royal Note – powerful notes that help you proceed through worlds by getting rid of obstacles in your way, provided you have enough of them. Collecting Royal Notes is not all that difficult, which is pleasant enough for the most part, but occasionally they’ll be handed out when things haven’t gone all that well and you probably don’t deserve it. As nice as it is to be able to continue through the story, it does mean that the only reason to play through levels that you haven’t done all that well on again is pride, and pride only goes so far.

The one benefit of getting a Great rating on a level is the ability to do it again, but this time with feeling, by which I mean doing it faster, something that is much harder than you would think. Despite the fact that you’ve got the hang of it at standard speed, it’s a completely different kettle of fish when things are happening faster.  Even on the normal speed, progressing through levels and worlds is an immensely satisfying experience, and once you’re past the first few levels you’re generally treated to a boss battle or two where Tempo fights off some impressive foes. The format of boss battles is a little different to normal stages as, rather than following notes along the screen, you are instead shown the actions you are expected to perform and then have to pull them off with exactly the right timing. This can get quite tricky, as timings are subtly played with and can seem perfectly simple at first glance yet end up being the death of you time and time again.

Get through a couple of them though, and you’ll be able to proceed to the next world, each containing their own specific musical styles – a great touch as it means that no two worlds ever feel particularly similar. The Metal Mountains are remarkably different to, say, Showtime Island, and that means that it never feels like you’re repeating yourself. The size of  each world is cleverly done as well; you always feel like you’ve had a good chance to get the feel of each style of music, but before it gets monotonous you’re whisked off to the next style.

In the spirit of making sure that you never get bored, there are a couple of characters who occasionally take over from Tempo – Lyra and Tyko. These two have slightly different styles of play, but both also utilise the two simple jump and attack actions. The execution is slightly different however, as Lyra attacks enemies with bows, while Tyko has a more powerful attack and the ability to attack things above his head without jumping.

Best of all though, you’re given bonus levels with some of those stupidly-catchy Pokémon tunes. These tend to run you through everything you’ve learned in the previous few worlds, and act as a sort of refresher course preparing you for what’s coming next. It’s a nice system of reminders, and also serves as a bit of fan-service to loyal Game Freak supporters, and one I certainly appreciated.

When it was all over, I found that I had developed an appreciation for HarmoKnight; there really is a lot to love about it, and although it may not have the best story, the gameplay more than makes up for it. Better yet, it looks absolutely fantastic and the (all-important) music is both catchy and easy on the ears. After a few attempts to get the hang of rhythm there is an incredible one-more-go aspect that will quickly eat up the hours. Best of all though, it’s a whole lot of fun.

  • Vivid, colourful and extremely good looking
  • Wonderfully-catchy music
  • It never feels like you’ve been doing the same thing for hours
  • You’ll always want just one more go
  • The storyline is iffy at best
  • Some of the characters are very, very annoying
  • No real reason to do well on, or replay, levels

HarmoKnight is always going to draw some comparisons to Game Freak's more famous creations, but in reality they’ve taken what they do best – making great games – and continued to do so. They’ve adapted their skills to make a good-looking, great-sounding, incredibly-fun title that will have you engrossed for hours. Sure, it’s not what they usually make, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not highly enjoyable. The story may be a bit rubbish, but the gameplay is good enough to compensate. In the end, HarmoKnight can stand alone as a fun experience in and of itself, and is well worth a look in if you’re looking for something that’s just plain enjoyable. Just make sure you’ve got headphones in if you’re playing around other people as they won’t appreciate the music in quite the same way you do.

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