Thump and Grind
It’s nice to see Game Freak get the chance to develop something besides a Pokémon game, and a charming little rhythm platformer like HarmoKnight seems just up that company’s alley. Between games like Bit Trip Runner and the upcoming Rayman Legends, an added rhythmic element is the hot thing in platforming right now. How well does this 3DS eShop title pull off that combination of rhythm gaming and traversing treacherous terrain?
The most important element of all rhythm gaming is the music, which HarmoKnight pulls off pretty well. Each of the game’s worlds has a different musical theme, giving the game a nice, diverse soundscape. Pokémon fans will be pleased to know that the game’s bonus levels all feature music from that series, and in fact, playing Pokémon games will give you a good idea of the general quality of HarmoKnight’s tracks. They’re cute and generally have a strong beat, but they can’t quite compete with the licensed hit tunes in mainstream rhythm games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band.
The basics of HarmoKnight’s gameplay are quite simple. HarmoKnight’s main character, Tempo, runs automatically through the levels with his trusty note-shaped staff at his side. The player’s job is to press B to jump and A to hit enemies, but doing this to the beat of the music that’s playing is the game’s main challenge. The basic button presses work well, and players will have a great time when they’ve gotten into the groove of a level. Advanced moves like charged attacks and jump-attacking are somewhat awkward to pull off, however, which can make the game’s later levels frustrating until the player has mastered them. The game could particularly have used a tutorial level dedicated to jump-attacking.
HarmoKnight changes up the basic gameplay nicely by including a few different kinds of levels and two companions for Tempo. Level types include basic platforming levels, boss fights that involve a rhythmic Simon Says minigame, and train levels in which Tempo controls a strange vehicle armed with cymbols. Tempo’s two companions include the archer Lyra and the percussionist pair of Tyko and Cymbi. Every few levels include a segment in which Tempo swaps with one of his friends for a different kind of gameplay segment. Lyra shoots her bow at distant enemies, while Cymbi (a monkey who rides on Tyko’s back) and Tyko take turns hitting high-up and low-down enemies. All these gameplay variations keep things fresh throughout, though the train levels aren’t as engaging to play as the other kinds of levels.
HarmoKnight’s graphics are quite well-done, especially for a downloadable game. The artists have done a great job adding musical motifs to the various lands that Tempo crosses through on his quest. Everything is nice and crisp, whether the 3D is turned on or off. The boss monsters that the player fights are quite imaginatively designed, and the animations that play in these levels are quite fun to watch. Similarly, the game’s occasional animated cutscenes are made well, although their artistic style may not appeal to all players. That style is toned down during the gameplay segments, which simply portray a highly musical world populated with charming characters and monsters.
While those charming visuals may give one the idea that HarmoKnight is a children’s game, players should be warned that it’s not very forgiving. Players must keep very strictly to the beat when jumping and clobbering enemies. A button press that most rhythm games would rate as “good” won’t cut it here. You’ll have to be at “great” level to lamely bat enemies away, and at “perfect” to get a solid hit on them and to make any necessary jump. This means that most players will spend a fair bit of time dying to monsters and falling into pits while learning the more difficult levels.
Worse, the game’s visuals can sometimes get in the way of pressing buttons to the beat. I had to close my eyes during a few boss fights because the onscreen action was causing me to press buttons too soon or too late. Anybody who isn’t excellent at keeping a beat will have difficulty with this game, and this fact combined with the minor control issues means that HarmoKnight probably isn’t a good choice for younger kids, or even older kids who aren’t patient and/or musically inclined.
While it’s not for everyone, HarmoKnight is a great choice for many rhythm game fans. The music is enjoyable and the gameplay carries an appealing challenge. It’s a blast for anybody who can get into the groove of the levels, and for those who crave extra challenge, all the main platforming levels can be played in “fast mode.” Players are encouraged to check out the game’s demo, which is now available on the eShop. Anybody who enjoys the music and action but hopes to see a steadily increasing damage curve through the game should definitely pick it up. Anybody who finds that the action doesn’t quite click with them should probably give it a pass, because the game’s basic flow and strict rhythmic requirements remain consistent throughout.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Crisp and colorful, with inventive world design. 3.4 Control
Good at the start, but a few control issues cause some frustration, especially on the more difficult levels. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
A solid and diverse collection of music, though it doesn’t compare with the best rhythm games out there. 3.5 Play Value
Over fifty songs and an optional “fast mode” give HarmoKnight good replay value for a digital game. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best