Rhythm games just aren't as big as they were a few years ago. The genre peaked with "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" saturation, and, as such, now has somewhat of a stigma attached to it. However, that doesn't mean that the right rhythm games can't still be fun. Game Freak, the company best known for working on the Pokémon franchise, are stepping away from their pocket monsters for the first time in a long while to release a 3DS eShop game, "HarmoKnight," that pulls a lot of its inspiration from rhythm games.
“HarmoKnight” is a constant sidescroller, where players take control of a young boy named Tempo, as his world, Melodia, is being turned upside down. After a meteor crashes into the planet, he and his rabbit friend Tappy set off on a journey to deliver a message to the Princess of Symphony City from the Royal Guard Woodwin, about how to keep the city safe. Unfortunately, before Tempo is able to make it to the castle the Princess Aralia gets kidnapped. Tempo must step up, and prove that he has what it takes to become a HarmoKnight by battling the invading Noizoids with his note staff, and save the princess.
The game feels similar to “Bit.Trip Runner,” in that it’s a fixed, sidescrolling platformer that relies heavily on the player keeping to the beat in order to stay alive. As Tempo traverses each level he must jump over spikes and pits, and combat a variety of different enemies, all while keeping in tune to the music. The more successful that Tempo is, the more notes he is rewarded with at the end of the level, which, in turn, help contribute to unlocking more levels.
Overall, “HarmoKnight” a fairly simple game, but Game Freak manages to introduce a variety of mechanics throughout the experience to keep each new area feeling fresh. First and foremost, Tempo isn’t the only playable character – as you progress through the levels, a handful of other characters will join your cause, all of which play similar to Tempo, but have different abilities, and are called in at specific times. For example, Lyra can shoot down enemies in the distance, and Tyko and Cymbi can use their size to take out foes on different planes without jumping. In addition to the characters, Game Freak also incorporated a variety of level types for Tempo and his team to navigate. One level might see Tempo dancing to stay alive, and another might have him navigating deep caverns to chase down a boss.
As a product, “HarmoKnight” is well crafted, and quite polished. The character designs and animations are sleek and look great on the 3DS, but it’s the music that constantly shines throughout the game. Since the gameplay is rhythm-based, the soundtrack is clearly something that has to be solid, and Game Freak delivers again and again on each of the different tracks for the levels. The music is simple, but catchy, and makes playing the levels over and over for higher points or to scoop up missed items a joy.
There aren’t too many downsides to “HarmoKnight,” and Game Freak have done a solid job of avoiding the common traps that games like this can fall into. Creating entertaining characters, switching up the gameplay, and making the music enjoyable all help “HarmoKnight” sidestep some of the issues for games like “Maestro! Green Groove” and even “Sound Shapes” have had to deal with.
At first glance, "HarmoKnight" is just what you expect it to be - a rhythm-based platformer that has players pressing buttons in time with the music. However, when you dig in, it ends up being so much more than that. Game Freak have stepped outside of their Pokémon themed comfort zone and created a simple, yet entertaining game that can compete with any other title in its very small genre. As you progress through the game it's easy to get sucked into the bright and colorful levels and characters, as the charm of Tempo's journey woos you into appreciating "HarmoKnight" different levels. When everything comes together, "HarmoKnight" finds itself climbing up the increasingly competitive ladder as one of the better games in the eShop, even if the $14.99 price might be a little steep for a download-only title, it's well worth the splurge.