Nintendo 3DS

HarmoKnight Playtest: Let’s Get Funkymon


While meteorites are more commonly known to cause mutant blob attacks and zombie outbreaks, in the land of Melodia, they can also signal the beginning of a Noizoid invasion. You can spot the difference by looking for a variety of demonic critters emerging from said meteor and seeking to disrupt the local harmony with obnoxious sounds.


Freshly armed with a mystical staff that conveniently doubles as a golf club, the task of preventing this invasion falls to Tempo, who will need to hit plenty of musical notes to save the day, literally.


HarmoKnight offers a side-scrolling auto-run platformer, where players will only have to worry about attacking and dodging incoming threats—though at times deciding whether to take the high or low road through stages with diverging paths will also come into play.


The typical rhythm genre demand of maintaining the beat twists here, with the emphasis on collecting musical notes, which has players adding to the score in two ways. While running through stages, players will collect the musical notes they run by while jumping to reach slightly higher ones, and they will also swing Tempo’s staff in time with the music to strike at approaching enemies as well as drum-shaped plants scattered throughout each area.


Attacks create a situation where it’s possible to hit an enemy but find your timing off, thereby missing the chance to gain a note—though how many notes you collect has no bearing on reaching the finish line. Stages will end prematurely if Tempo dies, either by running out of hearts from taking damage or by missing a jump and falling into ye old platformer abyss.


Tempo begins each stage with five hearts, and can replenish those or gain more by hitting precious eggs along the way. Tempo can carry up to eight hearts from one stage to the next as long as you don’t lose them during a stage, which means it’s sometimes helpful to go back to easier levels to gain a full eight before tackling some of the game’s trickier stages.


The number of notes you collect during a stage determines your scoring, with the ultimate goal being to gain a "great" rating and gold blossom—this allows you the chance to try a speed version of the stage as well as rewards you with a Royal Note. Royal Notes can also be gained with a "good" rating and silver blossom, and then there’s the "so-so" rating coming in beneath that, which simply allows one to pass along to the next stage. Since this would make it extra easy to chew through HarmoKnight’s stages, the world map offers a minor hindrance to encourage players to seek more perfect performances.


Royal Blossoms are needed to clear fragments of meteorite blocking the path forward on the world map—though the ability to do so with a silver rating means that seasoned rhythm junkies shouldn’t find it all that difficult to unlock the way forward.


The bread and butter stages will find Tempo running and jumping through areas with plants to strike, notes to collect, and enemies consistently appearing in groupings for a chance to be hit in time with the music. When hit successfully, some will even collide with unreachable notes as they fly off the screen, and Tempo will discover still more notes by bouncing off of large drums that fling him into the air. Typical platform concerns mean that Tempo consistently needs to jump over one obstacle before striking another, and then the game mixes that formula with various enemies and pitfalls.


There’s a recurring temptation to rely on the visual and strike at creatures when they seem within reach, but this often found me taking damage and falling short on critical jumps. Several stages took me two tries simply because of the twists and turns of the path and the sometimes overwhelming amount of enemies, but you definitely hear the beat when attacks are successful. But it’s important to note that rather than trying to overwhelm players with frantic button presses, HarmoKnight is more often focused on giving players the space to fall into a groove throughout each stage.


A few stages offer a break from this style of play with a mine cart ride, where players get the chance to slam giant symbols into enemies while riding a twisting path through caverns. During his travels, Tempo will also enlist two additional characters, Lyra the archer and Tyko, a large drummer with a monkey literally on his back, named Cymbi. This opens the game up to sections during stages where Tempo will step out momentarily and give players the chance to take these added characters for a spin, shooting targets with Lyra’s bow or using Tyko and Cymbi to smash targets on two levels with their drums. You’ll see more of these characters in the dialogue that occurs prior to boss battles than within actual stages, but the change of pace lends an interesting break to Tempo’s formula.


Boss fights offer a break from a loose style of platform action offering room for error, with bosses and minions offering more traditional and demanding rhythm based attacks, striking in patterns that the player will see and hear before repeating them in time to the music—these sections will also introduce the classic left, right, up and down prompts to the jump and attack formula.


Boss encounters feature flowing cinematic sequences that find Tempo racing down snow covered hills, speeding along the water on a dolphin, and even buzzing through the air on a bird, all while fighting large scale monstrosities. Boss fights also present another way for Tempo to die, by missing critical strikes needed to progress the cinematic battle. There are times where you can make a perfect run through a section but miss a final shot needed to strike a boss and unfortunately find yourself starting over from the beginning.


HarmoKnight’s stages are spread across seven worlds on a map alive with the charm you’d expect from the people who bring you Pokémon, which also infects many of the game’s creatures. While the cut-scenes possess a static comic presentation, every pixel of the world map should warm the heart of anyone who yearns for a game with a map fit to stand in the shadow of Super Mario World—it’s not nearly that detailed and sprawling, but it’s worth several nods all the same.


Not all areas here are created equal though, with some featuring fewer stages than other areas. What’s interesting about that is the sense that the game never wants to hit players over the head with the familiar, and is willing to move on to another area when one exhausts the potential for surprises. And there are plenty of little surprises along the way, from a dance obsessed octopus to a clock tower where the speed of the music changes with the rotating path toward the peak.


After defeating the final boss, player’s will have a chance to search out five rare birds, which the game makes easy by marking the stages where they are hidden with a feather. All of these stages feature multiple paths, where the one less traveled through reveals a special egg to be hit in order to release one of these small birds—collecting all five grants access to a secret cloud world where mental remixes of the game’s stages await.


HarmoKnight ensures that this secret is only found after defeating the final boss by hiding one of these bird stages behind a piece of meteorite that requires all of the 45 Royal Notes collected during the primary game—a process that will also unlock a series of bonus stages accessible through the level select menu, which let Tempo run through areas filled with the familiar music of the Pokémon franchise.


HarmoKnight will be available as a download from the Nintendo eShop starting tomorrow for $15.


Food for thought:

1. HarmoKnight hits the mobile factor with smaller stages and plenty of them. Having been raised by Parappa and further schooled by Ulala, the game hits a reasonable middle ground with challenges that allow the curious to take an easy enough tour while leaving something for veterans to obsess over – it took me five hours to perform a basic unlock of everything the game has to offer.


2. HarmoKnight is one of the pricier titles specifically designed for release on the eShop at $15, which stirred a conversation among our staff about pricing for digital titles, wherein I’m tipping my hat toward the idea that the production values involved in creating rhythm levels worth a fan of the genre’s attention and the amount of stages offered here help justify the price tag.


3. The Funkymon headline was my idea. It seemed funny at the time. I’m really, really sorry.

Jamie Love