The old platforming hero from Bandai Namco still offers good entertainment, but some of the charm has been lost over the years.
If you ask someone who grew up with the two first PlayStations: "What is your favourite platform series," most of them will probably answer series like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Ratchet & Clank, Sly Cooper or Jak and Daxter. These series are no doubt the most familiar ones, but the selection of decent platforming games on PlayStation was certainly bigger than that. One of the less familiar franchises who still has some faithful fans is Klonoa, where players control the dog-rabbit-hybrid titular character with the power to pick up enemies with his Wind Ring to solve platforming puzzles and challenges.
The platforming series from Namco (or Bandai Namco Entertainment as they are known as today) offered plenty of charm and surprisingly good gameplay mechanics, but Klonoa only received two main titles and some handheld spin-offs before things went quiet. The last game released in the Klonoa franchise was the 2008 Wii remake of the first game, which was almost 15 years ago. This makes the release of Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series even more special to fans, where Bandai Namco is now re-releasing Klonoa: Door to Phantomille and Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil to celebrate Klonoa's 25th anniversary. Considering how Klonoa 2 has been locked to PlayStation 2 ever since its initial release in 2001 (which of course makes the game even more expensive on the second-hand market), this re-release will most likely be welcomed among fans wanting to revisit the series. Ideally this collection should have included the handheld games in the franchise, especially since most of them were never released outside of Japan in the 2000s, but it's understandable that the focus is on the two mainline titles. They are the most familiar ones, after all, and similar enough to each other to create a unified whole.
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There is a story in the Klonoa games, but it is so inconsistent and messy that it serves more as background noise than engaging storytelling. Short version is, our hero Klonoa gets hold of a special ring that can blast gusts of wind, and this ring brings him to different worlds in need of his help. There is a potential for good storytelling in these games, but either Namco did not consider this a priority back in the day or the details which would make sense have been lost in translation.
What the Klonoa games lack in story, they make up for in charm, something you will find lots of in this collection. The characters have a whimsical design which will entertain both nostalgic and new players, and you get plenty of nice and fresh stages with a bright and clear colour palette to tackle. The games also come with dialogue spoken in a fictional language, and though it is slightly annoying at times it is also an irreplaceable part of the series' charm. Well, mostly, because in some cases the characters' voices are so terrible it will make your head hurt every time they open their mouths. Huepow, Klonoa's sidekick in the first game, is by far the worst, and his squeaky noises makes him the worst sidekick in video game history, even surpassing fan "favourites" like Navi and Fi from the Zelda games. Despite characters like Huepow, however, you will get a collection filled with joy and fun. Combined with creative stage design and use of camera angles (especially in Klonoa 2) it is easy to get back into this package of old platforming fun. We aren't talking about revolutionary platforming games here, and some of the elements have not aged as well as others, but the total collection is still well executed.
However, some of the series' visual charm and distinctiveness has been lost in the transition to newer platforms. This re-release gives you remastered versions of Klonoa 2 from PlayStation 2 and the 2008 Wii version of the original 1997 PlayStation game, a choice that makes sense since the Wii version was created to give players a Klonoa 1 experience closer to the one they know from Klonoa 2. This decision will not only fall heavy on those longing for the classic style of the original PlayStation game, but those longing for the cel-shading style of Klonoa 2 will also be slightly disappointed, as the remasters have a newer style with smooth textures. The problem is that this style feels impersonal, boring and without any form of distinctiveness, a "dime in a dozen" style which we have seen from several low-budget platform games over the last decade. The new graphical style gets the job done, and it is positive to see how the developers stay close to the original level design and background details, but the uninspired and cheap presentation makes you long for the option to switch between the old and new look, like what has been seen in digital remasters of old point-and-click games from LucasArts.
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Another factor making the collection feel somewhat cheap is the limited settings in the options menu. For example, you can adjust button configurations, but only to the four main action buttons and not to the shoulder buttons or triggers. In one of the stages in Klonoa 2, the player is tasked to ride a hoverboard through a dark cave and collect diamonds along the way, a task made so much harder by the fact that the diamonds are the same colour as the track. I can imagine this must be a nightmare for colour-blind players, so more accessibility functions would have been appreciated. The worst part is still the pixel filter, which tries to give the games a certain retro feels but ends up making the screen all blurry and smudgy, where colours swirl into each other like oil on water. This filter does not fit with either of the games at all, and the execution is so terrible that I have never seen a worse attempt at giving a modern game a retro-pixelated feel.
Despite these shortcomings and minor issues, you get some useful additions to the collection as well. Both games can be enjoyed in co-op mode, something only available in Klonoa 2 previously, which will help nostalgic parents share the Klonoa experience with a new generation of players. In addition to the new visual style, the audio has also been tuned, and the music in Klonoa 2 especially is surprisingly good and deserves lots of attention. You can now also adjust the difficulty, and speed runners will appreciate the Stopwatch mode for an additional challenge.
The greatest new feature is certainly the opportunity to play the games in 4K resolution and 60 frames per second, something offered on the next-gen platforms. The PlayStation 5 version is well suited to the task, and aside from a minor framerate drop whenever a boss is defeated in Klonoa 2, I couldn't notice any technical issues during the test. The collection also comes with amazingly fast loading times, so fast that you do not have the time to read the useful hints on the loading screen in the first game (the loading times are only a couple of seconds longer in Klonoa 2). On Switch, however, the technical situation is different. This version comes with lower resolution, longer loading times and no HDR support, but all of this is as expected from a console with less firepower than a PlayStation 5. Performance issues, on the other hand, is harder to accept. The Switch version runs constantly under 60 frames per second (close to 50 fps most of the time) with noticeable response time issues along the way, something you can notice already on the first stage of Klonoa 2, where both frame rate and response time take some serious hits. The collection is still playable on Switch, but the performance issues make for a less enjoyable experience than the one on next-gen consoles.
Though some of the charm from the original versions has been lost over the years, there is a lot of platforming fun to find in Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series. It isn't hard to understand why this dog-rabbit creature still has a faithful fan base, and despite some dated elements the level design holds up well enough to give both old and new players several hours of fun during lazy summer days.
7 / 10
Classic platformers offering great challenge and entertainment; Co-op mode; Great performance on next-gen platforms; The soundtrack of Klonoa 2 in particular stands out with some great tracks.
The story is nonsense; Handheld games are missing; Some dated platforming elements; Simple remaster with few options and innovations; Terrible Pixel filter; Uneven performance on Switch; Worst sidekick in gaming history.