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HarmoKnight Hands On Preview

When Gamefreak takes a break from Pokémon, we all benefit.

Even though they seldom get the chance to prove it, Gamefreak—famous for making the mainline Pokémon games— can also innovate in genres quite different from their meat and potatoes product.  So, when it was announced that they would be creating a downloadable rhythm game for the 3DS, there was good reason to get excited.  Thanks to the recent release of a demo in the eShop, anyone who wasn’t already psyched up for HarmoKnight can find out why the rest of us are counting the days until its release on March 28th.

Even before Gamefreak and Nintendo had a binding relationship, the developer tended to stick with Nintendo hardware ever since their first release of Mendel Palace on the NES.  Although not many people would wax ecstatic about that first game, a few products have dribbled out of Pokémon HQ and found some very passionate fans.  The most beloved releases these aficionados praise are Smartball for the SNES and Drill Dozer for the GBA.  Both games are platformers and both are quality examples of the genre crammed with creative gameplay ideas.  If the demo for HarmoKnight is any indication, Gamefreak has found new facets of the rhythm genre to explore too, while still giving us the rhythm game we love.    

When first looking at the demo, you’ll notice that it’s overwhelmingly cartoony.  Perhaps even a tad too cartoony.  But with one look at the overworld map that could have been ripped from Super Mario World and repainted with primary colors, your heart can’t help but melt and find the aesthetics to be just about perfect.  The demo doesn’t show off much of the map, but you’ll get a good taste of what to expect from the game. 

Most of the levels place your character in an auto-scrolling side-view where you have to jump to avoid obstacles and strike enemies before they strike you.  Each of these actions adds a note (or several) to the catchy soundtrack playing in the background.  You’ll have to rely on the rhythm of those tunes in order to time your actions just right and get the best sounding beats possible. 

There are a couple tutorials explaining the jumping and hitting controls that let you get a feel for their coordination with the in-game music.  The hitting mechanics are pretty familiar and intuitive, but the jumping feels like a new way to go about interacting with a rhythm game.  Jumping is used to collect notes that enhance the music, of course, but it feels a bit different since one button press initiates a single jump that can wind up playing multiple notes depending on how they were laid out across the level.  Already with the first few levels of the demo, we’re seeing some Gamefreak creativity applied to a fairly well established genre. 

As you reach the end of the demo, you face a boss fight that isn’t particularly innovative, but a welcome callback to Space Channel 5 and other genre faves. Since Sega seems unwilling to give us more Ulala, we need to get our fill of left—left—right—hit—hit—hithithit and the first boss battle satisfies.  It feels great to nail the call and answer pattern in this sample boss fight and just leaves you wanting even more.  

Other gameplay ideas will make an appearance too, even though they don’t show up in the demo.  There are two other playable characters, a harpist and a drum master.  Both of these look to use the stylus, which will be another welcome mechanic for fans of Elite Beat Agents, the series that was beloved and hyped so much that it died on store shelves in the U.S. 

Even though the demo shows you the ropes, it’s easy to see that the game will have its challenging moments.  You’re given a rating at the end of each level based on how many notes you collect, and getting a “good” rating instead of a “so-so” rating isn’t a cinch.  There are also ways to uncover some bonus notes here and there in ways that aren’t entirely obvious and finding them is a nice way to challenge yourself during replays.

If all it takes to get you to try this game is to tell you that there are Pokémon hot air balloons in the backgrounds, then so be it. Gamefreak should be a developer you get pumped up about even if Pikachu is nowhere to be seen, though.   Any remaining doubts you have about the studio’s outlier products can be put to rest by giving the HarmoKnight demo a try on your own.  Download it from the eShop and see if you think the House of Likitung deserves your $15 when the game is released on March 28th.



Nick DiMola Director

03/21/2013 at 12:54 PM

Must download this demo.

Julian Titus Senior Editor

03/21/2013 at 12:57 PM

This looks adorable.

Jon Lewis Staff Writer

03/21/2013 at 02:49 PM

I geeked out on the Pokemon level. I'm pretty sure theres more where that came from, so ill likely be picking this one up.

Cary Woodham

03/21/2013 at 07:14 PM

So GameFreak did Smartball/Jelly Boy, huh?  That was a neat early SNES game.

Yeah I downloaded the HarmoKnight demo.  I'll probably download fhe full game, as it's basically a cuter Bit.Trip Runner game.

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