Game Review – HarmoKnight

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HarmoKnight (3DS)
Developer: Game Freak
Price: $15

Stripped of the singing and dancing, Glee’s high school dramatics are simple. Trite even. It revels in discussing social issues – like homophobia and, just recently, Chris Brown – to varying degrees of success. But that’s not the point. Other than the requisite Brittany quips and Sue Sylvester’s bullying, people are tuning in to hear their beloved characters sing “Call Me Maybe.”

The same logic applies to HarmoKnight, minus Carly Rae Jepson. You play to the game’s tempo as Tempo – a spry boy equipped with a glassy quaver. You’ll hop over apertures and use your dazzling eighth note to bat ocarina-shaped apparitions, glaring flutes, and Qbert look-alikes to the music’s beat. Collecting notes that float in implied staves comprise your score, but you can also gain points by whacking critters at the precise moment. Since Tempo runs ahead at a fixed pace, remaining in sync with each stage’s ditty and collecting as many notes as possible is paramount to scoring a golden lilac medal.

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Obtaining those metallic flowers grows harder to get as the game progresses. Hitting optional tambourine and cymbal perennials while running becomes mandatory. Ghosts materialize directly in front of you. Temporal clock towers fluctuate song speed. The camera zooms in, giving you less time to react to incoming threats. Remaining entranced and nailing a segment despite, or in spite of, these wrinkles invigorates and illustrates the ways HarmoKnight tries to keep the rhythmic, two-button action fresh.

However, the game never goes far enough with these changes. An archer and warrior venture alongside Tempo and occasionally insert themselves into the action. Yet it’s a visual shift – you’re still pressing two buttons in time with the music. This goes for oddball monkey mine cart levels too. These aberrations are fake-outs for those looking for variety.

The other half of HarmoKnight’s levels play like recitals. It’ll shout, “Hit! Hit! Jump! Hit!” and you’ll perform those actions as if beats in a measure. It’s like playing those four-colored Simon Says games, with the added challenge of memorizing when to press each button. You get the feeling that the cinematic swatting and reflecting of fire bursts from chubby dragon conductors is there to distract you from the lack of interactivity.

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It’s even harder to distract yourself from the mediocre soundtrack, because listening well equates to higher scores. That’s not to say there isn’t strong variety—each of the eight worlds are themed after a style of music. Rock Range is craggy, with wailing electric guitars. Calypso beach is, well, the name sums it up. Baroque Volcano, one of the final vistas, features violin strings that’ll stir you into a hot swivet. But when each original track fails to earworm its way into your heart the way a meager dollop of Pokémon songs do, you’ve got a problem.

For Glee, mooching off of other artists’ material is its biggest draw. If the show had to come up with catchy beats every week, the soundtrack would suffer. As HarmoKnight proves, crafting a memorable soundtrack isn’t always inevitable within the rhythm genre. If only it had a Jane Lynch to lean on.

C+

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