Klonoa 2 Hands-On

We have a nearly complete version of this highly anticipated platformer. Read on to see what all the fuss is about.

Despite its unimpressive commercial performance, the original Klonoa managed to amass something of a cult following. It's understandable--the game was simple, yet brilliantly designed, from both a gameplay and artistic standpoint. During a time when 3D platformers seemed the order of the day, Klonoa's "2.5D" design served as a contrast, which quite possibly lead to its lukewarm commercial reception. Namco seems to believe in Klonoa's draw, though, and rightly so--the PS2 version is looking marvelous.

Anyone who's played the original Klonoa will feel right at home with Klonoa 2. While the game has yet to be translated into English, the build we've been playing gives us a good idea of what the final game will be like. Essentially, Klonoa's classic gameplay elements remain intact. With the aid of his magic ring, you're able snatch enemies and do exactly two things with them: use them to attack or use them to fuel your jumps. The former involves hurling said enemy into the body of another, effectively neutralizing both. The latter requires you to press down in tandem with the jump button while in the air in order to gain some extra vert. While the gameplay mechanics are simple enough, the way in which Namco has built incredibly intricate levels around them is what is truly remarkable. Designers of all types of games should take careful notes.

Different stages call for different strategies. In some, you'll be required to snatch up enemies in order to ascend to increasingly higher platforms. In others, you'll need to strategically hurl enemies to other areas of the stage so you can use them to open doors, reach ledges, and so on. When considering the game's subtle use of the third dimension, the potential intricacy of some of the stages quickly becomes evident. Without offering too much of a spoiler, illustrating one of the early stages serves as a good example: In the center of a circular area, there is a pendulum. Various parts of the circular ring you'll traverse have breakable pieces, and there are enemies trolling up and down them. In order to break the pieces, you have to snatch the enemies and hurl them at the pendulum at the correct trajectory. The pendulum then swings, in a manner that's physically sound, and upon impact, it shatters the breakable stones. This has to be done several times in order to make the area fully traversable, and, needless to say, the sequence is quite engaging. There are doubtlessly many more areas in this vein, which can only mean great things for the game as a whole.

New to Klonoa are the boarding-style stages. Identical to the surfing stage present in the demo released earlier this year, these stages see Klonoa riding a board, traversing long, hazardous stretches bound by on-rails gameplay. When on a board, Klonoa can still jump and snatch stuff with his rings, and in some of the sequences, doing so is necessary. Often, items will be out of reach, and they can only be grabbed with an assisted jump. Similarly, enemies don't disappear during these stages, so you'll want to prepare to defend yourself by snatching up a foe and towing him along in case things get ugly. The camera shifts often during these sequences, showing Klonoa from a side-scrolling perspective as often as it does from a front or rear view. The changes are always consistent with the gameplay--during a rear view, expect to be pursued by some kind of hazard, while during side-scrolling sequences, prime yourself for some heavy platforming. The front and rear views are accompanied by limited amounts of 3D movement, in order to facilitate dodging, zipping, and swerving. One boarding-type sequence actually takes the form of a race--during his adventures, Klonoa meets a certain duo of mischievous cats, whose true intentions, sadly, will remain in the dark until the game is translated. In order to best one of them, Klonoa--mounted on a snowboard--must physically catch him. The cat is pretty fast, and in order to catch him, you must take advantage of the stage's geometry to make up for his superior speed. This level is played out in a very compelling racing-game fashion, and it serves as further testament to Namco's ingenious performance within self-imposed limitations.

Visually, Klonoa 2 is something else. The game's more impressive than the original was in its time, mostly due to the sheer size and intricacy of the environments. The character models boast a light cel-shading effect, though we've heard that Namco's actual technique isn't what is traditionally employed. The effect is the same, however, and the characters look marvelously hand-drawn and animate. The stages are replete with all kinds of subtle and well-executed lighting effects, which work to offset whatever negative effects their polygonal simplicity may have imposed. And since the game is, essentially, fully rendered in 3D, you can see much of what is going on in areas beyond the one you currently inhabit. The game has to be seen first-hand to be truly appreciated, though we're sure that the copious servings of media we're presenting will help hold you over.

Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil is set for release this July in North America. Namco has really gone out on a limb by releasing this sequel, considering the original's questionable commercial record. We sincerely hope that this game gets the attention it deserves. Who knows? If it does do well, the company might consider rereleasing the first, which has become somewhat scarce. In any case, we're sure to get a final version soon, so keep your eyes on the Klonoa 2 gamespace for the latest.

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