Klonoa: Door to Phantomile didn’t start out as a Klonoa game. When series creator Hideo Yoshizawa of Namco began work on this quirky PlayStation title, it was intended to have a licensed character as the lead. In a twist of fate similar to Nintendo’s Donkey Kong arcade game, the departure of the licensed properties and characters yielded a more enjoyable title than what might have been. Klonoa may not have the pedigree of Sonic or Super Mario, but it’s a solid franchise that continues to yield fun, though niche, adventures.
Yoshizawa’s marching orders from the brass at Namco were simple; they wanted a new action game. In the world post-Super Mario 64, developers had become 3D obsessed, foregoing traditional 2D games nearly en masse following Nintendo’s revolution. Yoshizawa was happy to oblige his bosses, but had no intentions of conforming to the trend of the day. 3D games were too complicated to him, as they made attacking enemies and navigating the game world more difficult than in a 2D game. Yoshizawa did want to make a game that incorporated 3D, but in a different way, a sort of “2.5D” that would mix elements of both perspectives. Thus was born the concept of Klonoa’s gameplay, a title that would allow for 2D movement in a 3D world.
Klonoa himself has an interesting origin, as he’s the result of multiple bids around the office to design the lead for Yoshizawa’s new game. While I suppose that’s not totally uncommon, it is worth noting that a passing comment about Klonoa’s appearance from a member of the sales team nearly upended the game’s development. They suggested that because Klonoa has big, floppy ears, he should be able to fly. Yoshizawa immediately dismissed the notion, as the game would go from being about “action” and instead become about “flying”; he’d have to change the entire structure of the game! Still, the notion wouldn’t release itself from his mind, as he felt if the sales team member thought Klonoa should fly because of the way his ears looked, everyone would start expecting it. In a self-imposed state of paranoia, Yoshizawa decided that rather than fly, Klonoa would be able to flutter and cover small distances. This happy medium meant expectations would be met without breaking level designs. Talk about being detail oriented!
The game itself is stuffed with charisma, as Klonoa has a cute cast and a fairly emotional story. I will say that the cinema scenes and characters do border on being overly cutesy, which might turn off some of you out there. Klonoa does offer you the chance to skip through cutscenes, which is nice because it would be a real shame to miss out on all the excellent gameplay just because you hate Huepow. Passing on the cinema scenes might leave you with gaps in the story, but you can take in the game all the same without it (you cold, evil person). Regardless, I recommend you sit back and enjoy the drama, because it pays off in the end! (Seriously, you might tear up-members of the development team did).
Klonoa is reminiscent of Crash Bandicoot in that it doesn’t offer traditional 3D gameplay. You navigate the world from left to right on a 2D plane, but the world is rendered in 3D and thus allows you to also move into the screen by scrolling the environment in differentdirections. Essentially, you maneuver Klonoa along twisting pathways that will shift your perspective and create some very interesting tests of direction. Klonoa‘s other gameplay hook comes in the form of how you interact with enemies. Yoshizawa wanted to make a title where the player captured enemies and used them to his advantage. To achieve this, Klonoa is able to snag enemies using his special ring and then either fling them for offense or use them to initiate a double-jump. The mechanics are immensely satisfying and result in some very clever puzzles that require you to determine the best way to utilize the baddies you encounter. Klonoa can fling enemies into the sky, the ground, left, right, and even into or out of the screen! This range of motion made for some interesting exploration, as certain secrets would float inconspicuously in front of your face if you weren’t paying attention.Klonoa’s unique controls are both intuitive and fun, and demonstrated that there was still plenty to mine from 2D action games.
Klonoa was actually remade for the Wii quite faithfully back in 2009. The graphics have been substantially upscaled and reworked on the Wii, and subtle tweaks to Klonoa’s movements make the game a relatively smoother experience. I recommend giving it a try if you don’t feel like tracking down the original or downloading it from the PSN. Klonoa is the result of Namco letting Yoshizawa follow his gut and make a game that innovated rather than conform. It’s as engaging today as it was back in 1998, so be sure to give this overlooked series a shot!
Released 1998. Developed and published by Namco.
Klonoa: Door to Phantomile is available on the PlayStation. It is also available via download on the PSN. A remake of the game was released on the Wii in 2009 and is simply titled Klonoa.