Review: HarmoKnight is a rhythmic and melodic gem
Those familiar with Game Freak Inc. will undoubtedly associate their name with the Pokémon franchise. It is, after all, one of the first things you see whenever a Pokémon game is booted up. With that kind of pedigree, a game not based on the Pokémon franchise, or even the same genre, can go one of two ways. Their familiarity with Pokémon could make their development of a different IP stunted, never having branched out to anything else. On the other hand, given the high amount of polish and dedication to the Pokémon series, their next endeavor could match that same level of polish and fun. Luckily, in HarmoKnight's case, it's the latter.
HarmoKnight is yet another entry in the increasingly popular rhythm platformer genre, that has most recently seen a release with Gaijin Games' Runner 2. While the basics remain the same, the two games are fairly different from each other, and it's obvious that Game Freak has infused HarmoKnight with a certain charm that's hard to deny.
Even the story is charming, as it revolves around a young boy, Tempo -- an apprentice to an old man who once was a HarmoKnight. The land falls into chaos as a strange meteor crashes to the ground, brainwashing animals to grow more aggressive and the people to fall into a deep trance. Mix into this a kidnapped Princess, a couple of companions to join you on your way, and a legendary staff that's only bestowed to HarmoKanights, and you have a melodic adventure filled with catchy music and some stellar platforming.
Unlike Runner2, the bulk of the game revolves around jumping and hitting, as well as picking up as many notes per level as you possibly can. When picked up, these notes complement the background song, as well as every jump and hit you land, resulting in a complete composition that is a joy to listen to, let alone play.
Occasionally during levels, one of your two companions will hop in and take over a section of the level. Lyra wields a bow and arrow, which can shoot far away enemies (to the beat of course). Tyko wields a big drum, and a monkey, Cymbi, on his shoulder, and requires you to either hit enemies on the ground with his drum, or enemies in the air with Cymbi. These characters definitely add variety to the stages they appear in; I just wish the music wouldn't break up whenever they switch places with Tempo. Essentially, the music stops, and then resumes when another character hops in. It's still technically done to the beat, however, it breaks up the flow, which is certainly a big deal in a music/rhythm game.
Boss fights are unique, as well, since they become less about jumping to the beat, and more about playing a game of Simon Says. During each encounter, the boss attacks in a given, rhythmic pattern, which you then must defend against in that same pattern. Whether it's hitting projectiles back, jumping over them or steering left and right to avoid obstacles, the boss fights are undeniably fun, if a bit too easy. That's the problem with the game as a whole. Outside of a few of the final levels, the game isn't all that challenging.
HarmoKnight isn't entirely long either. I was able to beat it in just a few hours, although that was just playing through the entirety of the main story. The game features seven main worlds, with an unlockable eighth that will kick your butt if your platforming skills aren't up to the task. Each song also has a secondary mode that plays each song sped up, increasing the difficulty.
As a bonus, and obviously as a nod to the fact that Pokémon is Game Freak's baby, there are five unlockable Pokémon songs that also feature various imagery from the Pokémon games, such as Pokéball and Pikachu hot air balloons in the background. These songs are pure fan service, and it's awesome to see that Game Freak opted to sprinkle a little bit of their famous franchise into HarmoKnight.
While it's difficulty doesn't really ramp up until the eighth world is unlocked, those who stick through the whole thing will find an incredibly fun rhythm platformer with a stellar soundtrack. HarmoKnight is certainly one of the best downloadable titles available on the eShop, that, as a bonus, is also brimming with charm and depth.