Namco's developed a reputation over the years for following in Sega's wake. Whether or not such an accusation is applicable, or even fair, is debatable, though the argument is compelling. Consider: Tekken followed Virtua Fighter; Time Crisis came after Virtua Cop; and Ridge Racer appeared after Daytona. Now comes Namco's Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil, ironically the first major title after Sega's pioneering Jet Grind Radio to make use of the same cel-shading technique featured prominently in the Sega skater. Is the mysterious trend validated? Not really. Visual similarities aside, Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil has little in common with the free-skating JGR. The game is the sequel to the little-known PlayStation title, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, and it's a 3D platformer set on a linear (albeit beautiful) 2D rail.
In Klonoa 2, our floppy-eared hero Klonoa again finds himself trapped in a world of dreams. While the dreams were his own in the first game, Klonoa 2 throws him into the foreign world of Lunatea, whose happiness is maintained by four powerful bells located across the globe. Soon after Klonoa arrives, he is befriended by Lolo and Popka, a young priestess and her assistant, whose knowledge of Lunatea becomes an invaluable asset to him. While Klonoa struggles to find out how he's become stranded in a dream not of his own creation, he soon discovers that a dark fifth bell threatens to sound, which will disrupt the happiness Lunatea's enjoyed so far. With Lolo and Popka's help, Klonoa realizes it's his mission to stop the fifth bell from sounding and restore peace to this bizarre world.
Despite Klonoa 2's slick cartoonlike appearance and Namco's claims of "dramatic 3D action," the game uses 3D in much more of a cosmetic sense than Jet Grind Radio does. The gameplay, in fact, more closely resembles original PlayStation titles like Pandemonium and Crash Bandicoot. Most levels take place on strictly 2D rails that have you simply trying to get from one side of the screen to the other, rather than running around with freedom to explore the environments. There are a total of 24 levels in Klonoa, each one following the other in a linear progression. The main difference between Klonoa 2 and the first title is that most of the environments in Klonoa 2's levels are wildly imaginative. In one of the early stages, you'll bounce on a couple of power springs, grab hold of an enemy, and drop down into a giant cannon that'll launch you high in the sky and across the cityscape.
Klonoa 2's gameplay is in the tradition of classic 2D platformers. The control is simple and consists of the directional pad and two buttons (one to jump and one to attack). Attacking and jumping are both accomplished with Klonoa's magic ring - his main asset for navigating the levels. The magic ring can disable enemies, allow him to jump higher, and provide a method with which he can hitch a ride with flying enemies. Also, Namco intends to provide Klonoa with some means of transportation through certain levels - you can expect a hoverboard, as well as some other surprises.
If there were ever a title that could clearly be seen as the visible boundary for how far video game technology has come in recent years, Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil may very well be it. As colorful and lavish as a Disney movie, and just as smooth, Namco's action title blurs the line between painstaking hand-drawn animations and meticulously rendered 3D models more than fellow cel shader Jet Grind Radio could ever hope to. Klonoa 2 goes for a cartoon appearance and pulls it off almost seamlessly. The levels are varied, ranging from brick-red industrial burgs to lush jungle canopies, and the cel shading and the highly stylized art direction make this easily one of the prettiest games seen on any system to date. Despite the game's 3D appearance, don't expect to suffer through a cumbersome camera interface to see all the pretty sights. Since the game's movement is totally scripted, Namco fixes the game's camera in the ideal position in every situation, making it easy to appreciate Klonoa's vibrant and beautiful gameworlds.
Klonoa 2 is already one of the best looking titles we've seen heading our way in 2001. Let's face it - absolutely jaw dropping gameworlds rolling by at silky smooth frame rates can win over even the most jaded critics. Klonoa 2 might not meet the approval of those expecting the second coming of open-field games like Mario 64 or Sonic Adventure. Klonoa 2 is not that type of game; instead, it trades in exploration and item hunting in favor of an action-packed test of your reflexes and your patience, just like the classic 2D platformers of yesteryear. Look for Namco's Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil to arrive on the PlayStation 2 console by this summer.