Harmo Knight is essentially an on-rails platformer with music, sound and rhythm playing a huge part. Running from left to right automatically, the aim is to make it to the end of the level without getting killed (so far, so Mario) but also collecting items and avoiding dangers, all whilst keeping track of the rhythm of the background music. Things are kept simple early on (and throughout most of the game as well) with the B button being used to jump and A swinging a weapon to attack enemies. Audio clues (think the way notes are counted down to in the Rhythm Heaven games) help to identify when to avoid or attack, and certain items in the stage background can be hit to increase the amount of notes collected. These are important not just to add to the music being played, but also because the amount collected helps to unlock new levels.
The game is split up into a total of eight worlds, each with a number of stages within. These are presented in an overworld map, again evoking the Mario games, with alternate routes, mini-bosses and an end of world boss. There is bright and colourful presentation throughout, with some animated storyboard scenes for key story events and some nice use of the 3D effect, especially the "pop-out" 3D used for the otherwise bland non-animated, text bubble parts. This is one game that will look magnificent on the larger 3DS XL screens.
As progress is made, new characters are introduced and a couple of these are playable. Although the stages where they can be controlled cannot be chosen freely, where they are used it provides a bit more variety to the standard jump and attack controls of the main character – the first attacking once a reticle lines up over enemies and sliding, instead of jumping, to avoid obstacles with the second controlling similarly, but bringing the X button into use. And it is this sort of steady progression and gradual learning curve that is seen from one world to the next as towards the back end of the game, d-pad inputs and a faster speed are introduced, increasing the amount of challenge on offer. Whilst Harmo Knight is by no means a game that will challenge most rhythm action fans for a prolonged period, the natural rise in the level of difficulty is one that feels quite natural.
The way the game continually changes how each stage is played can also been seen through the boss battles – both in the middle and at the end of each world. Instead of being the usual automatically scrolling affairs, these follow the "Simon Says" approach to the rhythm genre, most notably evoking the likes of PaRappa The Rapper and Space Channel 5, with a sequence being called out by the enemy which must be repeated in order to deal damage to it whilst avoiding the player losing health. Additionally, the end-of-world boss fights are suitably epic and cinematic in their feel, raising them from being simple "repeat after me" sequences. Later stages also shift the perspective from side-on to from behind and isometric which, when the 3D slider is on, both looks impressive and allows the game to take on a slightly different feel. As well as this, the 3D is used at times to hinder the player by obscuring the view of enemies, meaning that timing has to be near perfect as visual clues cannot be solely relied on. This has been used before on the system in Taiko no Tatsujin and it's equally as impressive here.
As is expected for the genre, there is enough reason to replay stages and keep coming back for more, even after the credits have rolled. Collecting every note, hitting every instrument and avoiding damage are perhaps the most obvious examples, but some stages have different routes available – some containing more notes, with others being more about defeating enemies and avoiding obstacles – that will tempt some players back to discover all they have to offer. One playthrough without stopping to maximise scores and explore alternate paths will take around four hours. That may not sound like a lot, but it feels well paced and perfectionists will be able to add a couple of hours onto that amount if they get suitably drawn in. The ability to play a stage again as a Time Attack once it has been completed adds to the potential replay value on offer, and the unlockable Pokemon stages and songs will no doubt please those who are fans of the developers biggest property.
Although the 3DS is no stranger to quality rhythm games, Harmo Knight is both unique and full of charm and is therefore something that genre fans with an import system will want to check out. If it makes it to the US and PAL territories, the 1800 Yen (around £14) asking price may need to be reduced to appeal to as many people as possible, but the game has the feel of a retail release in terms of its quality and presentation, even if it is a little on the short side.
- Unique take on the genre.
- Very well presented.
- Open to replaying.
- Length may put some off.
Developer: Game Freak
Other Versions: N/A
Version Reviewed: Japanese