Have you ever been playing a classic 8 or 16 bit platformer and thought “gee this is great, but I wish they mixed this with a rhythm game”? No? Well whether you have or you haven’t, Game Freak has created a hybrid between the platforming and rhythm genres. The result of this unnatural union, Harmoknight, is an addictive love letter to the the bygone age of platformers.
Harmoknight tells the cliché ridden tale of Tempo. Tempo is your typical gaming hero who just so happens to stumble upon an ancient weapon of great power. As you might expect in the world of gaming, this weapon happens to be the key to saving the world from the bad guys, in this case evil Noizoids. Harmoknight’s story is a typical tale that you’ve probably played through dozens of times if you’re old enough to have owned an SNES, but that’s the point.
From its world map, to its character design, to its story, everything about Harmoknight brings back memories of a time when colorful heroes went on whimsical adventures. Playing Harmoknight will inevitably remind you of 2D platformers of old like Kirby, Donkey Kong Country, or Mega Man. Those who have fond memories of bopping legions of not so threatening looking bad guys and narrowly crossing bottomless pits will get the most out of Harmoknight.
Harmoknight’s gameplay is a mix between platforming and rhythm games with a few cues taken from the modern endless runners that dominate the App Store. Tempo will automatically charge through each level. As Tempo races to the finish line, he’ll bash enemies with his staff, bounce on drums, jump over chasms, and collect notes (Harmoknight’s equivalent of coins). All of Tempo’s actions are set to the beat of a background track, and correctly timed actions will create sound effects that mesh perfectly with the music. Having a good sense of rhythm will help you time your actions appropriately. As you’d expect from a platformer, Tempo can take a limited number of hits before he dies, and mistiming a jump will lead to his doom.
Harmoknight has two main types of stages, normal levels and boss fights. In normal levels, action is controlled entirely through the A and B buttons. The B button is used to jump while the A button whacks enemies with Tempo’s staff. The gameplay is simple, but it demands precision. Earning notes, which is key to progressing in Harmoknight, requires you hit enemies at just the right time and the game throws in gimmicks that to add to the challenge, such as a clock based level which randomly speeds up or slows down your pace. Once in a while, you’ll briefly relinquish control of Tempo to play as other party members you’ll pick up on your journey. These brief sequences are largely the same as Tempo’s and adhere to the basic premise of properly timing button presses.
Boss fights play out like QTEs. Players are given a sequence of button presses, which include the Dpad along with the A and B buttons, and are asked to repeat it moments later with exact timing. Like the rest of Harmoknight’s levels your button presses will align with the rhythm of the BGM. The gameplay of these sequences isn’t all that special, but each boss fight is accompanied by vivid animations of Tempo battling larger than life monsters which breathe life into the encounters. Some of these battles, such as a fight with a demonic steamboat, are exceptionally well choreographed.
Like any good rhythm game (or platformer) Harmoknight’s gameplay is simple but intuitive. While my explanation may not seem too exciting, when you’re in sync with the rhythm and bashing enemies along to the beat, you’ll have a blast.
Harmoknight’s graphics are clean and colorful and seem heavily inspired by past platfomers. As one might expect, they don’t push the 3DS hardware to its limits. What is unexpected was how well Harmonight utilizes the 3DS’s 3D features. Harmoknight takes place almost entirely in a 2D plane, but the developers introduce interesting camera angles to add a sense of depth to the game’s worlds. Boss fights are especially dynamic and really benefit when the 3D slider is turned up.
Unlike many other rhythm games, Harmoknight isn’t tied to any one particular genre of music. Each world of Harmoknight has its own musical theme such as marches, calypso, jazz, or baroque. These genres are all interpreted through a 16 bit era filter. The game’s calypso music is the kind of tune you’d expect when running through the obligatory water levels in an SNES platformer (it reminded me a lot of Kirby’s beach levels). The game’s baroque music is what you’d expect to hear in that challenging lava drenched world leading up to a final boss encounter. Harmoknight’s music is a great throwback to 90′s era gaming and is catchy in its own right. Even as I write this, I’m humming one of the tunes from the game. If you play Harmoknight on a train, bring along a pair of headphones. Not only will you appreciate the music, but the game becomes nigh impossible without audio cues to aid your timing.
Harmoknight’s length is about average for a $15 purchase. The 47 levels that make up the main game can be plowed through in about 3 or 4 hours. You’re given a ranking for each completed ranking, so gamers looking for a gold ranking on each level will have to invest a couple of extra hours. Earning a gold ranking will also unlock an extra fast version of each level which will offer more replay value to the truly devoted Harmoknighter. There are 13 unlockable levels including 5 unlockable songs from the Pokemon franchise which will undoubtedly be a highlight for many gamers.
To sum it up, Harmoknight is a really fun little game that sports a great blend of nostalgia and originality along with a healthy dose of charm. Fans of old school platforms and rhythm games alike will have a great time jumping and smashing to the beat. Harmoknight is a clever and unique idea that doesn’t have quite enough depth to make it as a full fledged retail game, but certainly is well worth playing. This is exactly the kind of thing the eShop is for, and with a free demo available, you owe it to yourself to give Harmoknight a shot.
About The Author: Justin is an avid gamer whose had the Pokemon battle theme perpetually stuck in his head since he was 12. One day he will genetically engineer a real life Squirtle. You can follow him at Twitter/gotgamejustin.