Friday, April 19, 2013

A somewhat gay review of HarmoKnight (3DS)

Game: HarmoKnight 
Genre: Platformer 
Developer: Game Freak 
Publisher: Nintendo 
System: 3DS (eShop)
Release date: 2013

It has to be said, right from the start, that I've been chomping at the bit to play this Game Freak-developed digital title since it was unveiled during a Japanese Nintendo Direct broadcast back in August of last year.

I liked pretty much everything about the chunks of HarmoKnight that were highlighted during its first trailer--its art style, its music and its rhythm-based gameplay, especially. Each of those aspects continued to enthrall me after I played the title's demo for the first time about a month ago, which prompted me to assume this would be the next 3DS release--after THE DENPA MEN and Theatrhythm Final Fantasy, among others--to consume my so-called free time.

How wrong I was. Although HarmoKnight's art style is unquestionably appealing, and while its soundtrack and overall gameplay--which generally consist of "endless running" platformer stages that task players with jumping or hitting enemies and obstacles in time with a backing track's beat, although boss encounters switch things up by going with a more "Simon Says" approach--are (for the most part) stellar, those pieces never come together to produce the thoroughly enjoyable, must-play experience I expected after loving the demo.

In a way, this creation is much like Sega's Rhythm Thief & The Emperor's Treasure, which similarly intrigued me in the lead up to its release, only to disappoint and even enrage me (on occasion) afterward.

As for which elements were most responsible for letting me down: the most notable revolves around too many of the game's stages--I'm looking at you, Baroque, Jazz and Rock worlds--feeling cheap from a difficulty standpoint. Sometimes that's due to the background music being too subtle (making it hard to discern an actual beat), while at other times it's due to enemies or obstacles literally coming out of nowhere. (Both of these issues are present in every one of HarmoKnight's maddening mine-cart stages, by the way.)

Three other components that contributed to my more-negative-than-I'd-originally-hoped assessment of HarmoKnight: its lack of checkpoints (although this only becomes a real problem during this eShop title's later levels), its love of narrative text (especially annoying when you consider its story basically boils down to "save the princess from the bad guy") and the fact that it's a fairly short-lived experience (I beat the final boss and encountered the game's end credits after just three hours of play).

Do all of the above-mentioned cons outweigh HarmoKnight's pros--which include not only its art style and soundtrack, but also its Space Channel 5-esque boss and mini-boss battles and Pokémon-themed bonus stages? Sadly, I think they do.

I have to say, though, that I'd probably respond to that question in a more positive manner if the game cost $5 or even $10. At $15, though, it's far too flawed to recommend to anyone other than huge fans of rhythm-based platformers--and even those folks are likely to wish they'd refrained from hitting the "buy" button at one point or another.

See also: previous 'somewhat gay' reviews


Justin Difazzio said...

I was WAY excited to play the demo, but after trying the boss battle six times and never getting ANY farther than I did the first time (due to the left-right-left-right path navigation where it's hard to even know WHEN to steer...), I decided to NOT get this unless it was on super sale sometime. said...

You're not the first person to tell me that they've had a hard time with the boss battles, Justin. That said, I haven't had a problem with a single one! Weird how that happens sometimes, isn't it?

Anyway, given your reaction to that part of the demo, I'd definitely recommend against picking up the game. I guess you might want to give it a try if it goes on sale for, say, $5, but even then I worry you may wish you'd saved your money :|

michaelstearns said...

I took a peak on Youtube for some of the later levels and you sure weren't kidding about the "subtle" music, I would definitely have a hard time with that. The music itself doesn't really fire me up much either. It seems like an ok soundtrack but it sure ain't Space Channel 5 (but then, what is?)

How do you like the game compared to Bit.Trip.Runner? Have you played that? said...

The funny/sad thing about the music of this game is that it's all over the place. I really like the tunes in the first world, for instance, but then hate the tunes in the second world (and the third one, too, I think). Late in the game, though, when you enter the snow-filled world (the fifth or sixth, if memory serves), the music is good again.

Like I said on the latest Nichiest Podcast Ever (not out yet), I actually like the soundtrack as a whole, but not all of the songs are conducive to this kind of game.

Even then, though, the soundtrack pales in comparison to something like Space Channel 5 or Samba de Amigo or Rhythm Heaven, IMO. Like you said, though, which game soundtrack doesn't pale in comparison to those greats?

As for Bit.Trip Runner: sadly, I haven't played either of those games yet, although I've always wanted to play the first (at least). Have you played either of them? If so, what do you think of them? said...

Oh, that's OK. I certainly don't mind telling you a second time that it's not out yet :)

As for checkpoints and BTR: that's too bad. HarmoKnight doesn't have any either, sadly. Actually, it doesn't matter much for most of the game, but some of the later, longer levels def. could use them.

apricotsushi said...

That's too bad that you didn't enjoy it more, Bryan. I was intrigued by its art style and pedigree (it's Game Freak, how could you not take notice?!), but in the end, I had enough on my plate that I decided to wait to pick it up. Given your impressions and my general lukewarm feeling about what I've seen so far, I'll probably not be picking it up any time soon. said...

I think that's for the best, sadly. The folks at Game Freak had the best of intentions, I think and many aspects of the game are wonderful, but the aspects that aren't so wonderful really bring it down in my book--especially given the game's price. Oh, well, it's not like we lack 3DS games to play at the moment, right?

apricotsushi said...

Indeed we don't! said...


diaglyph said...

I tried the demo and knew straight away it was not for me. I'm really glad I didn't take the plunge (and yea its $19 here in Aus).

I found it was very very unforgiving if you happened to "miss press" a slight milisecond off. To me it seemed that I pressed at the right time, but the game would not register. I had also heard how towards the end it just got insanely harder. So if it required that much precision, then no thanks.

I do agree that it is charmingly presented.

As much as I enjoy music, these music rhythm games (this includes the FF Theatrhythm game) are really not my thing and usually that's either because my reflexes just aren't that good and/or the game requires very precise action (button presses etc). said...

$19 in Australia? Yikes! I guess it's especially good that you decided to pass on this one then.

I'm sorry you found the game unforgiving, by the way. That actually wasn't my problem with it, although I've definitely heard the same complaint from others.

Also, it definitely gets harder near the end. In fact, I'm starting to get the feeling that I'll never beat the final, final stage of the game (the final post-game level, basically).

Anyway, I guess if music/rhythm games just aren't your thing, they aren't your thing! Nothing wrong with that, if you ask me.

It's kind of like how FPSes aren't my thing. In fact, I don't even bother with them anymore, as I just know I'm not going to be able to play/enjoy them going in...

diaglyph said...

FPS - yes I feel same way (Halo, CoD, etc) those games just put me into a coma, I don't find them terribly exciting (plus they're over saturated).
Tho strangely some I've been ok with in the past (like Star Trek Elite Force).

I'll just to stick to RPGs hehe (loving FE so far) said...

Yeah, it's not like there's nothing else to play. Puzzlers, platformers and RPGs keep me plenty busy, so I don't care if I skip FPS games.

nupanick said...

I'd still recommend this game: the core gameplay is actually okay, they just piled on too many unpolished "features." The character switches in particular feel like they could have been on par with Rhythm Heaven's Remix stages if they'd made a couple tweaks. Do you really have to STOP the background music so Tempo can tag in Lyra? Couldn't there have been a musical cue to tell me "uh oh, time to switch control schemes?"

Oh, and I just realized that there's a reason the story felt so cheap: They basically just copied Star Wars: A New Hope and replaced "the force" with "the power of music." Oh, and I guess that means they made Chewie into a chimpanzee, which is actually sorta funny.

nupanick said...

I'd argue that the tight timing is the only thing that makes the game even slightly challenging. It's what I loved about rhythm heaven: the controls are easy as can be, but the game WILL dock you points if you're not exactly on the beat.

Rhythm Heaven has basically set the bar for casual music games. If you don't like that, you won't like any of these.