You'll often hear a groan when the subject of porting a game to the Wii comes up, but that's mostly when publishers take a game developed for more powerful hardware and strip it down to run on Nintendo's ultrapopular console. What's cause for far less concern is when a publisher takes a cult favorite from several generations prior and spruces it up for a new generation of players. Such is the case with Klonoa, Namco Bandai's cutesy platformer based on a 1997 PlayStation game. At the time of its release, the original was regarded by critics as a platforming classic, but its sales didn't quite match the praise. So here we are, 12 years later, with Namco Bandai set to release a remake of this cult favorite for North American Wii owners, and we've just had our most extensive look at the game yet.
What sets Klonoa apart from the platforming competition of the era is the way it plays with so many of the genre's conventions. On the surface, you have a side-scrolling platformer with saccharine visuals, twinkling music, and a mascot of indeterminate animal origins. Those parts are fairly standard, but the rest is much less so. Everything plays out on what appears to be a 2D plane, but with a camera that frequently swoops and pans when your path bends around a curved surface, giving you the impression of moving across a much more fluid landscape. In addition, you'll need to pay attention to objects in the background, because triggers are frequently buried behind you, forcing you to consider not just the X and Y axes, but also the Z axis. All you ever really do is move up and down, left and right in traditional platform style, but the way Klonoa plays with your conception of space is quite rare for a 2D game.
The way you interact with enemies is also much different from most platformers. Here, baddies are less of a threat and more of a tool to help propel you past certain obstacles. Grabbing hold of an enemy and throwing him down while you're in the air allows for a double jump; distant triggers can be switched with a precise enemy lob; and armored enemies can be weakened only by having an unarmored one thrown at them. Most levels become some combination of precise jumping, darting past unnecessary bad guys, and figuring out how to use the enemies that are necessary for progressing. It's a simple control scheme that uses only two buttons--one for jumping, the other for grabbing--but allows for a pleasing level of variety with the way these various feats are combined.
The Wii version of the game sports a few new features not seen in the original release. It's very light on motion control and even gives you the option to turn it off altogether, though if you have it on you can let out a whirlwind attack by shaking the nunchuk, thereby unleashing a storm of wind that takes out all bad guys within the immediate vicinity. (That's about all you'll see of Wii-specific features; it's a game that stays true to the source material.) Other new features include touched-up visuals (most noticeably 3D character models replacing sprites), English voice acting, challenge rooms within story levels, and the ability to unlock mirrored versions of each stage to play through them backward.
Altogether, Klonoa should offer a lot for platforming fans to look forward to. Wii owners who are new to the series should be pleased with the charming look and surprisingly distinct gameplay, while those who have played the original ought to be pleased to find that the original Klonoa hasn't been filled to the brim with unnecessary motion controls. You can expect the game to be released on May 5.