In 1997, Namco released a modest little platform game for the PlayStation called Klonoa. The game wasn't exactly groundbreaking, as it used many of the basic mechanics of a 2D platform game, but it was set against a quasi-3D background. It was a neat effect that another PlayStation platformer, Pandemonium, had already used. So while it wasn't completely original, Klonoa did bring rock-solid gameplay and interesting, varied level design to the table. The game was commended by critics for its quirky style and unique take on the traditional platformer, but it was by and large ignored by the general game-playing populace. Still, the critical acclaim, combined with a passionate cult following, has over time created enough interest in the Klonoa name to warrant a PlayStation 2 sequel. It's a relatively short game, and it's not very hard, but it's got so many great qualities and is so much fun to play that it'll definitely be worth your while.
The story of Klonoa 2 follows the floppy-eared protagonist through his adventures in the dreamworld of Lunatea. The land of Lunatea maintains balance through the four Harmony Bells, located in the four different kingdoms of Lunatea. But a sinister force is planning to bring a fifth bell, a Bell of Sorrow, into Lunatea, causing Lunatea's priestesses to fall ill, monsters to appear throughout the world, and generally hurling the entire world into a mire of gloom. It's up to Klonoa and his two newfound companions--Lolo, a young priestess with something to prove, and Popka, a stained-glass-window-eyed smart aleck--to keep this evil plot from coming to fruition. The story has a sort of sappy Japanese New Age spirituality to it, which will be familiar to anime fans and console RPG players alike, and it is replete with long-winded speeches and overly dramatic pauses.
Klonoa 2 would make a pretty mediocre anime movie, but thankfully there's an incredible game present to pick up the slack. The game picks up where the original Klonoa left off, using the same fundamental mechanics and throwing in a couple of new tricks as well. As in Klonoa, you can grab enemies Yoshi-style using your power ring and use the captured enemy to propel yourself higher in the air than a regular jump would propel you, or you can use the enemy as a projectile to throw switches or knock out bad guys or roadblocks. There are a handful of new enemies in Klonoa 2 that grant you special abilities when captured, such as the kiton, which acts as a helicopter of sorts for a short burst, or the boomie, which acts as a timed explosive. Another new element in Klonoa 2 is the inclusion of hoverboard levels, where you maneuver Klonoa down rivers and snow-covered mountains while avoiding obstacles and enemies. These new elements are put to good use, and everything is there for a reason; there's nothing slapdash about Klonoa 2. The game maintains a nice equilibrium between simple switch-based puzzles, platform jumps, hoverboard levels, and boss fights. Though there are only a few core types of levels in Klonoa 2, they all manage to stay fresh and interesting, thanks to some truly inspired level design and art direction.
In spite of all this, Klonoa 2 does have a notable shortcoming: its relative lack of difficulty. The game feels as if it were calibrated for a younger audience. It'll be a snap to cruise through all 18 levels in less than ten hours, which is too bad, since given the fast pacing and the high quality of the game, you'll wish it were twice as long.
Klonoa 2 looks great. A very subtle level of cel shading is put to use on the characters, not for the purpose of making them look out-and-out cartoonlike, as in Jet Grind Radio, but to make them stand out against the expansive, highly detailed 3D backgrounds. The camera generally stays focused on the action, but occasionally you'll drop off a waterfall or get launched into the air by a cannon, during which time you'll get a view of the entire level, whose size often put the levels from the Sonic Adventure series to shame. Namco has clearly discovered a lot of what makes the PlayStation 2 tick--excellent particle and lighting effects are evident in almost every level, there is never any slowdown or draw-in, and the infamous PS2 aliasing is kept at bay most of the time. In addition to its great technical qualities, the game has an incredible sense of style. There is a decidedly Japanese feel to the game, in the same way Rayman 2 had a distinctly European feel to it.
The high-quality production that permeates the game extends to the soundtrack as well. It's not exactly something that you'd want to listen to at home or in your car, but in the context of the game, the music always complements its respective level perfectly, always enhancing the experience and never getting in the game's way.
Because of its airtight gameplay, awesome visuals, and great soundtrack, Klonoa 2 is an almost perfect platform game--almost. You'll wish that the game were longer, and if you're experienced with games of this kind, you'll probably wish it were a little tougher too. Still, Klonoa 2 is a pleasure to play from start to finish. It's a must-have for fans of platform games, and all PlayStation 2 owners ought to give it a try.