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HarmoKnight Review

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On 04/05/2013 at 03:00 PM by Travis Hawks

Get in on this Game Freak gem before Nintendo cuffs them back to Pokémon.

Have 3DS? Buy game.

Pretending to be a rock star with mini-guitars was pretty cool for a few years, but we’ve thankfully moved past that fad and can start getting music-based games that aren’t just for fulfilling your leather pants wearing fantasies.  We’ve had a few highlights in the rhythm genre here and there as those plastic instruments made their way from Best Buy to Big Lots, but now that they’re completely gone it looks like we should get more innovative and quirky music games like we used to.  If HarmoKnight is an indicator of the upcoming rhythm game onslaught, then I say “bring it on.”  Mixing platforming with call-and-answer beat matching, HarmoKnight is a wonderfully cute and addictively fun journey that will keep you on your (tapping) toes.

Be warned:  If you have a heart of stone and know you won’t be able to find enjoyment from trying to be-bop across side scrolling levels to an exceptionally video-gamey soundtrack, then HarmoKnight won’t be your bag.  Otherwise, you’re sure to find lots of joy traversing a world map
with our hero, Tempo, on his way to save a princess.  Yeah, the story is nothing engaging or too original with a bad guy coming to ruin everyone’s music-driven high or some such, but that’s all just window dressing to provide a reason for conquering each level along the way.

The majority of the stages are side-scrolling platform situations where you have to time jumps as well as strikes of your large note-shaped sword to keep from getting damaged.  Each jump and hit will also supplement the soundtrack as Tempo charges forward on his quest.  You’ll be striking at bouncing squeakers, diving whistlers, and drumming crab walkers that all add their own voice to the soundtrack until you smack them to perfectly nail key beats.  A slight misstep won’t harm you but will add a saddening flub into the score, which is always a disappointment.  Completely missing a target will cause them to run into you and sap your health, which means you have several chances to make minor mistakes before completely failing a section.  Well, if you miss a jump and fall into a chasm, that’s all she wrote and you have to retry immediately.  Each of these platforming sections are challenging but can be made even more difficult by trying to strike bonus targets along the way for a higher score and a more nuanced soundtrack.

Along with the platforming is an old favorite that everyone loves to hate: minecart levels.  I’ll warn you right now that I never got sick of minecart levels, but I think the HarmoKnight take on the trope will be enjoyed by even the biggest haters.  They’re a nice change to the way the typical levels operate by replacing single-hit strikes with continuous cymbal clang to plow through enemies.  As you can imagine, the mine carts can move pretty fast and just switching between “jumping” and clanging operations makes for some stressful and satisfying situations when you’re moving along at top speed.  These levels are also a great showcase of the game’s graphics and use of stereoscopic 3D.

At times, you’ll be watching your minecart from the side, but the view often rotates until you are behind Tempo’s head as he climbs steep hills and then drops through a series of targets.  Turning on the 3D effect during these levels is a real treat and a good reminder that the 3DS can do some pretty cool things when in the right developer’s hands. 

Changing camera angles are also used to great effect in the call-and-answer rhythm matching encounters.  This is the form that most of the mid-level and end-level bosses take, where Tempo is snowboarding down a mountain or riding on a bird while being tormented by burst shots from snowmobile mecha-wolves and angry flying pigs.  The camera often pans behind, above, and in front of Tempo as movement (left, right, left), attack (hit, hit, hit-hit-hit), and dodging commands (jump, jump, …jump) are laid down for you to imitate beat for beat.  This makes for some very slick cinematic moments in a game that I thought would just be cartoony trash.   I was left a little wowed at times during these scenes, even when I really needed to be paying attention to the rhythm I was about to get pounded with.  Some of these battles were a bit tough, but if I closed my eyes and focused solely on the music I was normally able to nail them – verification that the rhythm mechanics in HarmoKnight are spot-on.

There’s even more variety when Tempo’s buddies hop into the middle of a level.  Both of your companions, Tyko and Lyra, use similar modes of attack where you have to line targets up in their reticule to time strikes just right.  Lyra shoots at long-distance creeps while Tyko and his monkey companion strike bad guys charging at and just above him.  These aren’t wildly different from the way you control Tempo, but they certainly feel different and keep things from ever feeling stale – something that never happened for me throughout the course of the game.  Switching between these characters is also my only real gripe.  Every time they hop onto the scene, the musical score comes to a halt.  It’s a passing irritant, but when it happens, it harshes the musical mojo, like some sort of 8-track tape jug-jug right in the middle of a mean guitar solo. 

Once you make it through the primary journey, there’s plenty to unlock, perfect, and enjoy.  HarmoKnight has quite a few collectibles, bonus levels, high-speed variants on levels you’ve beaten, unlockable areas, and possibly other cool things I didn’t find yet.  With such a meaty variety of things to do, HarmoKnight has the potential to keep you entertained for a long, long time.  Don’t let the sorta goofy cartoon aesthetic keep you away from HarmoKnight; it’s definitely a game all 3DS owners should download.  The best part is you won’t have to throw out any plastic instruments to make room for it.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



Julian Titus Senior Editor

04/05/2013 at 03:35 PM

This looks delightful. If I had a 3DS I could see myself falling into this for hours.


04/05/2013 at 04:30 PM

Thanks Travis. I'm pretty sure I've downloaded the demo for this game and I really should give it a shot. I get scared off by rhythm games for some reason. I also seem to like downloading demos better than playing them. :D

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/05/2013 at 11:40 PM

I am always gun shy about rhythm games too, but it just takes that first step.  Some levels are tough and take lots of tries but you'll get it.  Try the demo - you'll see!

Cary Woodham

04/05/2013 at 07:17 PM

I plan on getting this eventually.

Joaquim Mira Media Manager

04/06/2013 at 08:55 PM

Am I right in assuming from what I've played of the demo that this game is similar to the Bit Trip Runner games?

Travis Hawks Senior Editor

04/07/2013 at 09:30 AM

The demo is a good representation of the actual game.  They moved things around so that you get a feel for everything you'll be doing.  Personally, it feels a lot different to Bit.Trip.Runner (I have only played the first one) where I feel like what you're doing isn't as tied into the music as it is in HarmoKnight.  I think that's just the way I approach Runner, though. You might be more focused on the beat in that game than I am.  Bottom line is, if you like the demo, you will like the game.


04/07/2013 at 03:39 PM

 When I watched the video, it was definately reminded of Space Channel 5. I'm gonna download the demo right now :)

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