A dragon named Dragnarock. A ghost named Ghocarina. A frog named Castanewt. And a fly named *drum roll please* … Amplifly.
The musical puns in HarmoKnight (!) are excellent. They’re probably the best part of the game… which is kind of a shame, since it could’ve been one of the best games on the eShop but for several key design flaws.
But I’ll hold off on those for now. First, MORE MUSIC PUNS! You play as an ordinary kid named Tempo who is thrust into the responsibility of becoming a HarmoKnight by defeating the evil Noizoids and returning peace to the land of Melodia. It’s the most cliché of stories, sure, but the comic-book style cutscenes are a joy to watch, and the art style adds a good sense of charm and personality that is only amplified (ha!) by the puns.
The gameplay is simple—jump over things and hit enemies to collect notes without losing all of your health as Tempo automatically runs toward the goal. Every jump, hit and note collected is timed exactly with the music, so your personal sense of rhythm is much more important in HarmoKnight than in other music-driven runners like Bit.Trip Runner.
The sense of rhythmic movement becomes even more satisfying when you use the power hit. If you hold the button after swinging the staff, it’ll charge up to hit with twice the power when you let go. The rhythm of holding and letting go can feel great in certain stretches that are suited for it, and you’re rewarded with double the points for each successful power hit.
HarmoKnight’s tracks, unfortunately, are mostly forgettable.
Since HarmoKnight is a rhythm-platformer hybrid, it relies on both visual and aural cues to keep you in rhythm. This mostly works well since the controls are so responsive, but sometimes the visual cues are misleading. For example, if you try to jump over a rolling spike ball when it looks like you should be able to rather than when it sounds like you should, the ball will harm you, even if it doesn’t physically touch Tempo. The same is true of hitting objects with the staff; even though your staff might come into direct contact with the enemy before it hits Tempo, it’ll still hit you if your timing is off. This can lead to some baffling and frustrating moments when you feel absolutely sure that you did nothing wrong but fail anyway.
But these problems could be mitigated by great music, right? HarmoKnight’s tracks, unfortunately, are mostly forgettable. A handful of the songs are great, particularly the unlockable Pokemon-themed songs. The problem is that about half of the songs in each world are based on a generic theme for that world, like Calypso Beach and Baroque Volcano, so the only deviation between some songs in a particular world is the placement of the notes and enemies. Rather than creating a unique melody for each level, the notes and enemies only serve to emphasize almost random parts of the exact same melody that plays in the background.
The game breaks up this melodic monotony, however, by scattering a few different types of levels among the standard ones. Boss battles and clock towers are the most notable. Boss battles play like a more rhythmic and cinematic version of Simon Says and are some of the most fun levels since they’re tightly scripted and intense.
Clock towers, however, are by far the worst in the game. In these levels, the tempo speeds up and slows down at predetermined points. When the tempo changes during a lull in the action, it works just fine. But in many cases, the tempo changes immediately before a timing-based event, like right before an enemy appears or—at worst—right before a jump over a pit. This is often infuriating because you don’t know how much the tempo is going to change and can’t judge when to time your actions.
This problem is just one example of how the more difficult moments are frustrating instead of fun. Rather than being required to perform more complex hits and jumps that could create some awesome melodies, you’re often faced with instances that test your reflexes, like when the camera zooms closer to Tempo to give you less time to react or when a pit is placed immediately after a blind fall. These moments are never fun and feel like a needlessly cheap way to ramp up the difficulty.
Two alternate characters also show up throughout the game to change up the gameplay. These characters appear in specific sections of levels when Tempo passes the baton to them for a few measures. Although they’re a fun alternative to Tempo, they aren’t implemented particularly smoothly (the music stops abruptly as they tag in for Tempo) or often enough.
Rather than being required to perform more complex hits and jumps that could create some awesome melodies, you’re often faced with instances that test your reflexes.
The game consists of about 60 levels that last about two minutes each on average. If you only stick to blasting through the levels, HarmoKnight would be a pretty quick experience and definitely not worth the $15 asking price. But if you’re more of a completionist, each level can be played again on Fast Mode if you’ve gotten a high enough score on Normal. Some levels are even more fun at a faster speed, but unfortunately, the levels that suffer from the problems I’ve described are even more frustrating on Fast. Regardless, I spent a total of about eleven hours getting everything in the game, so the content is there if you’re willing to work for it.
Despite its problems, HarmoKnight is mostly a fun game. Perhaps it feels more disappointing than it should because it could’ve been so much better with only a few tweaks. Hopefully Game Freak can fix what’s baroquen with a sequalypso.
… I’m sorry.
Why it may be helpful for people with anxiety
- The gameplay requires a trance-like focus to take your mind off of other things
- The layout of the world map encourages you to play just one more level
Why it may be unhelpful for people with anxiety
- Finger dexterity is required, so cold or numb hands restrict the ability to play well
Why you should be playing this
If you love rhythm games, you’re guaranteed to have some fun with HarmoKnight. The problems come in when the game tries to be too clever and throw in challenges that don’t work well with the mechanics of the game. Fortunately, these problems only get in the way of fun some of the time, and the joys of playing through the better levels (such as the Final Trial) can mitigate the frustration from the worse levels.
This review was based on the 3DS version that was purchased by the reviewer on the eShop.
March 28, 2013
Responsive controls, great art style, some decent music, awesome puns!
Visual cues can be misleading, methods of challenging the player seem cheap, music is forgettable