So like…I suck at platformers. I suck at platformers more than you can possibly comprehend. There’s a reason that my blog is called RPG Rabbit and not Platformer Rabbit or Shooter Rabbit (I mean, beyond the obvious and unfortunate lack of alliteration that those blog titles display), and that reason is that I am really much better at turn-based games that require thoughtful strategy rather than lightning reflexes.
It’s not that I’ve never played platformers. For much of my childhood, platformers were some of the only games available to me. My only console for most of my young life was a battered old Atari 5200 that my dad had picked up at a garage sale for $1.00.
It came with a shoebox full of random games, some of which were repeat copies. For instance, I owned three Super Breakout cartridges. For some reason.
I also owned two copies of Mario Bros, which was sort of a platformer, if you squinted and didn’t think about it too hard. It had platforms, anyway.
I almost exclusively alternated between playing Mario Bros and Vanguard (a surprisingly awesome side-scroller), so you’d think I’d have gotten really good at Mario Bros. Alas, you would be incorrect. I sucked at Mario Bros. I could last maybe a minute before getting slaughtered by deceptively cute murder turtles, and that was on a good day. This was despite hours of frustrated practicing. Now, while I might attribute part of this lack of skill to the absolutely awful input device with which I had to work…
…but I wasn’t any better at platformers when I used a legitimate controller, either. My cousins owned a Sega Genesis, a fact of which I was eternally jealous. Every summer, my entire extended family rented an enormous, rambling beach house at the Jersey Shore, and the beach was honestly much less of an attraction for me than the Sega Genesis. I would commandeer that console every chance I got.
I mostly wanted to play Sonic the Hedgehog, because it was SO COOL. It was so fast and so shiny and so 3D! Unfortunately, I was awful at it. I could rarely make it past the first stage of the Marble Zone. Once I made it all the way to the Labyrinth Zone, only to immediately drown. Mostly I played the Green Hill Zone. Over. And over. And over. To this day, my mother complains that she gets the song stuck in her head.
Now it’s stuck in your head, too! You’re welcome.
Despite all of this practice, I still sucked at Sonic. I suck at Sonic to this day. I own Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for my PS3, and I can’t even make it through the Marble Zone any more. I have tried (and sucked at) many platformers in my time: Mario, Kirby, Metroid, Mega Man, Cave Story, Castlevania…the list stretches out to the crack of doom.
Most recently, I have been sucking at Rogue Legacy. Now, while I am aware that the point of a roguelike is constant death, it’s generally expected that at some point during this gameplay loop, a player’s skills will improve and they will begin to survive for longer periods of time. This is not the case with me. I survive for two minutes, max. My genealogical lineage of short-lived heroes always die with absurd, embarrassing quickness. The first time my boyfriend saw me play this game, he went quiet for a moment. “Wow,” he said, deeply serious. “You are really awful at platformers.”
I admit these things, not so you, dear reader, will shame me for my lack of competence, but so that you may understand my delight and surprise in encountering a platformer at which I do not completely suck, perhaps the first to exist in this world. This platformer, friends, is HarmoKnight available in the Nintendo eShop for my favorite handheld, the Nintendo 3DS.
I read a positive review of this game ages ago, but I didn’t bother picking it up until Nintendo just gave it to me for free this past summer, presumably as an apology for closing Club Nintendo. (This didn’t make it better, Nintendo. I’m still upset.) It was listed as a platformer and a rhythm game, and I’m pretty damn good at DDR, so I thought that maybe my rhytym game skills might balance out my profound platforming failures.
The fact that this game prominently features a rabbit named Tappy has nothing at all to do with my fondness for it. None.
The rabbit in question is the sidekick of Tempo, a young warrior of Melodia, a land made of beautiful music. Unfortunately, one day, Melodia is invaded by evil aliens called Noizoids, whose evil, world-destroying plot involves…making a lot of annoying noises, I guess? Worst world domination plan ever, really. But it’s a platformer, so the plot serves only as a vehicle through which to drive a great deal of jumping and attacking.
What makes this a rhythm platformer is the fact that every action happens to the beat of the surprisingly catchy music. You have only two inputs – hit A to attack and B to jump. Tempo runs forward through the level automatically. While this sounds simplistic (and it is), it quickly becomes tricky, because every attack and jump must be precisely timed with the beat of the music in order to be successful.
Jumping at the correct times lets you follow the path to collect notes, and whacking enemies on tempo nets you yet more notes. Collect enough notes, and you are rewarded with a Royal Note – essentially a currency that allows you to unlock the next area on the world map.
The music isn’t amazing, but it’s catchy enough, and it gives me enough rhythmic guidance that I can play this game almost competently. I’ve never aced a level, but I can at least get through them enough to play the game, which is really a first for me in a platformer. I can’t tell if that is because this game is incredibly easy, or if it is because the addition of musical timing gives me enough of an edge to almost cancel out my abysmal lack of platforming skills. Either way, I’m enjoying myself.
The game is admittedly a little repetitive. It breaks up some of the monotony by having a variety of game “Worlds,” each with a distinctive musical and visual flair. My favorite so far has been the rock n’roll-themed world. Several of the worlds feature recruitable party members who occasionally replace Tempo for brief sections of a few levels, adding in a unique twist to the basic formula of the gameplay.
For instance, Lyra here shoots enemies with her lyre-shaped bow, but the basic mechanic remains exactly the same — A attacks, B jumps — so the difference is merely cosmetic. Also, these alternate characters are only swapped in once every several levels, so it’s not really that much of a change.
The boss battles are actually mechanically different from the rest of the game. These levels function as cinematic chase sequences in which you must correctly enter in a Simon Says-esque sequence of timed hits and jumps, again to the beat of the music. I found these levels to be pretty easy once I got the hang of them, and certainly really visually impressive, particularly in 3D. However, if you mess up and fail the level, you have to sit through every bit of the cinematic again, which becomes quickly tedious.
I’m enjoying the game very much, and not only because it makes me feel slightly validated as a gamer to finally find a platformer that I can actually play. It’s brief, but quite entertaining, and it’s highly polished. I would expect no less from Game Freak, the development studio behind the vaunted Pokemon franchise. The game was evidently initiated as a side project, and I’m glad that the studio is letting its people do something other than eat, sleep, and breathe Pokemon occasionally.
While the game is steeply priced for an eShop game (it will set you back $14.99), I think it’s worth picking up for fans of the rhythm genre. Obviously, I’m a little biased towards it, because I got a cool game for free (though I am still bitter about Club Nintendo, Nintendo), but there’s a free demo available for download in the eShop if you’re on the fence about shelling out $15. If nothing else, the game may bolster your platformer self-esteem.