HarmoKnight Review

HarmoKnight is the friendliest rhythm platformer around, but its simplicity does not always work to the game's benefit.

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Rhythm games may be an uncommon breed, but thankfully there are developers who keep the dream alive through reworking traditional means of player interaction with music. HarmoKnight, Game Freak's latest non-Pokemon endeavor, is one example, eschewing licensed top-40 tunes for light orchestral arrangements and cheery colors in a world where every beat counts. This lighthearted adventure's friendliness is initially refreshing, but the delights are worn down by HarmoKnight's simplicity and repetitiveness.

Tempo is your avatar in HarmoKnight, and he's more of a carefree child than a revered hero. Though he has been diligently training under former esteemed Royal Guard Woodwin, he's still very much an amateur. But when the world of Melodia comes under attack, Tempo must be quick to defend the land and its royalty from the tyrannical Noizoids, who wish to take over in typical evil monster fashion. Alongside Tappy, the rabbit who provides helpful guidance, and new friends he meets on the journey through Melodia, Tempo harnesses the power of rhythm to conquer the forces of evil.

If it sounds like a tale pulled straight from the pages of RPG Heroes 101, that's because that's what it is. It's an endearing, family-friendly tale of kindness and working together supported by bits and pieces of traditional rhythm game and platformer conventions. These characters are bland, quite obviously born as simple avatars meant to thread the simple story together. The real meat of the game, as with the rest in the genre, is the music and how you interact with it.

Each level is a bite-size candy crunch, with Tempo usually running through a basic horizontal scrolling map rife with enemies and traps. Timing jumps and swats with the magical staff to go with the accompanying tracks unique to the level nets you more notes, which determine your overall performance ranking. Some levels feature branching paths, where you're encouraged to take a specific route. Tappy will point these out, warning you to aim for a higher or lower path to avoid dangerous traps and more difficult obstacles. By following his instructions you’ll earn more notes and save yourself a possible restart. You can choose to take the harder paths, but there’s no real reward for doing so, save for bragging rights.

Basic mechanics can be frustrating enough in some areas that an easier path should always be your first choice. A hit or a jump right on the beat might net you an "okay" result or a halfhearted attack without the accompanying "great" tone. When the musical accompaniments meant for each level aren't particularly memorable in the first place, it can be tough to get a feel for the right pacing or how the change in speed or an alteration to a downbeat affects your timing. And even when you feel as though you're completely in step, sometimes the game simply rebels against you, despite the fact that you can still breeze through with less-than-perfect rhythm.

The rhythmic inconsistency isn't as much of an issue in HarmoKnight's basic scrolling levels, but it can present a problem when you're confronting the high-speed mine cart levels or boss encounters. These sequences play out in a classic call-and-response pattern, where Tempo must zigzag around craggy mountains or snowy hilltops while avoiding three to five waves of enemy attacks. The instructions are clear--"left, right, left, left, hit!"--and you parrot the movements to dodge and defend yourself. You could follow the aural instructions and time them with visual cues as well, but the audio indicator that signals Tempo's turn is not always in sync, making it easier to close your eyes and complete the responses so as not to be thrown off by visuals that aren't in time with the music in some areas. These sections are not major missteps, but they needed tighter execution, more varied musical selections, and improved visual cues.

You sometimes need to switch to one of Tempo's friends to overcome certain challenges. This is an attempt at adding another layer of intricacy to what quickly devolves into bland hop-swing-bounce segments interspersed with miniature boss encounters and cart rides. Lyra is equipped with long-range attacks, which are used in the same manner as Tempo's staff, though her reticle changes, and the enemies she fells are usually at a distance. Tyko and his pet monkey are good for brute strength, either for high or low targets. But they never feel necessary, and it's Tappy who tags Lyra and Tyko in, so to speak, bringing the music and the action to a screeching halt should upcoming level segments require talents other than Tempo's. This jarring break in rhythm is a frustration that could have been avoided entirely by keeping substitutions in time with the music or omitting them entirely, leaving Lyra and Tyko as optional playable characters instead of requiring them mid-level.

You need to collect royal notes earned from performing well in each level. They are extremely simple to obtain, since even subpar performances net you at the very least a silver ranking, which is good for one royal note. You must collect a specific number of royal notes to progress, so if you're finding it difficult to keep up, you may be in for a bit of backtracking. The game can be completed in a couple of hours. While you can go back and speed up each area for a quicker playthrough, the eighth world unlocked after completing the first seven is a better use of your time, as it provides a somewhat heartier challenge. Additionally, there are some bonus Pokemon stages dotted with Poke Ball decorations, which is an unexpected treat.

The cheery aesthetic is uplifting enough, with eye-popping color palettes and cartoonish character designs. It's dazzling for the eyes, especially when viewed in 3D, and it harks back to a time when fantasy ruled and simplicity was key. HarmoKnight is a darling rhythm platformer with plenty of heart, but it's over too quickly, offering little in the way of surprises or challenge, and providing too scant a challenge to inspire return visits. Game Freak has a lot up its sleeve, but as is, its maiden voyage into the rhythm genre isn't an entirely successful one.

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The Good
Popping colors and vibrant artwork
Intriguing mix of multiple genres
Easy to pick up and play
The Bad
Correct timing is not often properly recognized
Bland characters and narrative
Forgettable soundtrack
6
Fair
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17 comments
kbaily
kbaily

Hey look a new Nintendo IP.  You know those things they supposedly never make?

peladex31
peladex31

if you want an unbiased review go to destructoid. I really trust those guys. 

moving_buddy
moving_buddy

i think i have to agree with gamespot with a 6. i was expecting some nice catchy tunes but there just wasnt. i was really looking forward to this game. im having to force myself to play through it with the hope it will get better which is not good. i dont even know what is going on in the story, i lost interest in world 2 it was that boring. i woke up one morning and fouind high school musical (honest its not mine its my sisters) ds game and just played it for a laugh and it is actualy a better rythm game. errrr!!! the songs where better too. 

anthony7648
anthony7648

Not that these kind of games get perfect scores but they get at least an 8, more often a 9. I can understand bioshock getting a 9 but call of duty. Meanwhile, luigis mansion gets a 6.5 and now this gets a 6. Short on content? It's only priced for 5 dollars. Value matches length in this case. This should be at least 7.5 or 8. Game stops giving a shit on unique opportunities. They hate Nintendo but love activision.

anthony7648
anthony7648

Gamestop. GamesSTOPS giving a shit about challenge and Nintendo and instead praises mindless reptetive shooters like call of duty.

charizard1605
charizard1605

Gamespot underescores a 3DS game? How unexpected

I_are_Cake
I_are_Cake

@anthony7648 They love Activision? That would obviously explain The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct's 4.0/10 score.

I_are_Cake
I_are_Cake

@anthony7648 Call of Duty is a great game. Must gamers always rip on it because they can't think of anything better to say? Think of some real criticism for the series besides the "mindless & repetitive" comment.

T3H_1337_N1NJ4
T3H_1337_N1NJ4

@charizard1605 I still feel tempted to drop a sarcastic comment here, but it's getting so common that I can't even be bothered now. Just ignore and move on, it's not like the bias in this site will hurt me or anything.

anthony7648
anthony7648

@I_are_Cake @anthony7648 They didn't pay gamespot enough to overlook its flaws. Assassins creed 3 had plenty of bugs but as long as they pay gamespot well enough, only unplayable games matter. Besides, don't you think its a little weird that something unique gets barely a pass from gamespot?

anthony7648
anthony7648

@I_are_Cake This is real criticism. If you played the game before, what's the point of spending $60. There are a few changes yes but not enough to make this a different experience. Play some more games than just shooter games and you'll know what Im talking about.

I_are_Cake
I_are_Cake

 @anthony7648 GameSpot is an awful review site, but suggesting corruption is just as bad as the buzzwords that are commonly used in game reviews. In fact, suggesting paid reviews is a buzzword in itself amongst gamers. Also, GameSpot has given lots of indie games high scores while giving the recent Army of Two game a 5.0.

I_are_Cake
I_are_Cake

I played lots of games including shooters. For example, have you ever played Knights of the Chalice & Sword & Sorcery: Underworld? While Modern Warfare 3 may have been a little similar, the other games are different enough & still fun. 

HarmoKnight

  • 3DS
HarmoKnight is an action packed rhythm game where you use Tempo's Music Note Staff to beat drums, crash cymbals, and smack enemies through more than 50 levels with unique boss fights.
ESRB
Everyone
All Platforms
Comic Mischief, Mild Fantasy Violence
Check out even more info at the HarmoKnight Wiki on Giantbomb.com