Namco is bringing its furry mascot of indeterminate species to the Game Boy Advance after a successful debut on the PlayStation and a second outing on the WonderSwan Color. The mighty K will stretch his legs on the Game Boy Advance in Klonoa: Empire of Dreams. After hopping and bopping our way through a preview build of the game, we're pleased to report that gamers will be treated to a polished old-school gaming experience. Based largely on the WonderSwan Klonoa game, Klonoa: Moonlight Museum, Empire of Dreams is a side-scrolling 2D platformer with puzzle solving thrown in for good measure.
Like all good mascots, Klonoa has a high-profile nemesis, and in this installment he finds himself at odds with the possibly evil, but definitely misguided, Emperor Jillius. It seems Jillius has banned dreaming in his kingdom, and he's offended by Klonoa's presence and ability to dream--go figure. In order to get back into the emperor's good graces, special K must rid the land of four monsters who are making trouble in the kingdom. Whether he's able to do so, considering Jillius hopes Klonoa will get squashed like a bug, keeps the story interesting.
The game is spread out over 40 levels broken up across five worlds. The game flow is fairly standard--you must collect stars and keys to make your way through each level. Variety is added in the form of forced-scrolling levels, which find Klonoa riding on a surfboard. Hearts are collected to increase health, and crystals can be collected to increase Klonoa's lives. At the end of each world, Klonoa encounters a boss who is usually dispatched after three hits.
Klonoa possesses a simple arsenal of moves that are faithful to the skills he had in his other platform incarnations and keep the game accessible. Klonoa can jump, and his jumps can also be extended into a "float" for a second or two by keeping the the jump button held down. He can fire a "wind bullet," which inflates an enemy and allows Klonoa to hold it above his head, throw it, or use it to extend his jumping height. Klonoa can also use the wind bullet move to hold items such as blocks, which must be used in a variety of ways to make it through levels.
While its levels mostly contain standard platform-jumping elements, Klonoa: Empire of Dreams also tosses in increasingly challenging puzzles for players to solve in order to progress. Items or switches placed just out of reach will force players to use all of Klonoa's abilities in creative ways in order to acquire them. Later boss fights will force players to use brains and brawn, as boss patterns require quick thinking.
In addition to playing well, Klonoa: Empire of Dreams manages to feature highly polished graphics. Klonoa is well sized and animated. The various worlds he travels through feature large detailed sprites, and little touches such as leaves and water give the areas distinctive looks. In addition, the backgrounds feature static images that add a surreal tone to the world thanks to their pastel coloring and cool stylized look. The game also takes advantage of the GBA hardware, with nice scaling effects during the story screens and boss fights.
The game's sound also bears mentioning thanks to the Game Boy Advance's sound chip, which has finally ended the days of tinny music and muffled speech on handhelds. Klonoa's voice during jumps is clear, and the game's music manages to offer a variety of styles to keep things interesting. The game's tunes actually add to the atmosphere of the various levels instead of just being background noise.
So far, Klonoa: Empire of Dreams offers a fun and enjoyably old-school playing experience that's left us eagerly anticipating the game's final release this August.