(Game Boy Advance)

Klonoa: Empire of Dreams (Game Boy Advance)

Game Review

Klonoa: Empire of Dreams Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Morgan Sleeper

Wahoo!

Starting life on the PlayStation in 1997, at a time when Super Mario 64 had just brought the gaming world triple-jumping headlong into the era of 3D platforming, Namco's Klonoa series has always done things differently. Klonoa's first outing, Klonoa: Door to Phantomile, was a pioneering foray into 2.5D, mixing polygonal backgrounds with sprite-based characters, and restricting movement to a two-dimensional path while letting the path itself wind its way enchantingly through a three-dimensional world.

It was breathtaking then and continues to captivate today, as Nintendo gamers discovered with the excellent Wii remake in 2008. But Klonoa's earliest appearance on a Nintendo system was back in 2001, with Klonoa: Empire of Dreams for the Game Boy Advance. Given that one of the series' defining features is its innovative use of 2.5D, does this fully two-dimensional performance manage to capture the charm of Klonoa's original adventures? Absolutely, and in the process, Empire of Dreams delivers one of the finest puzzle-platforming experiences on the Game Boy Advance.

Rabbit, cat, or both? Klonoa's species is never really explained, and isn't worth fretting over; in game he's referred to simply as a "Dream Traveller". Empire of Dream's story revisits the series' staple theme this time in the Kingdom of Jillius, where an insomnia-stricken emperor has outlawed dreaming within the realm. Naturally, Klonoa runs afoul of this law and is tasked with ridding the kingdom of various monsters to atone for it. Told through mostly static cut-scenes, the story is charming and more engrossing than you might expect, and it's happily backed up by wonderfully engaging gameplay.

The main gameplay hook of the series is that Klonoa can use a short-range "Wind Bullet" from his ring to lift enemies above his head, inflating them in the process in a visual homage to Namco's Dig Dug. From there he can hurl them at other enemies, or throw them towards the ground mid-jump, leapfrogging over them to perform his signature double-jump. It feels great, and re-imagining enemies as stepping stones rather than strictly obstacles makes for a very different kind of platforming experience. It means that just moving around the levels (or "Visions" as they're called here) involves light puzzling elements, and collecting the three stars needed to clear a Vision and the 30 optional gems requires creative use of Klonoa's skills as well as puzzle-solving prowess.

Barring some head-scratchers in the later areas, these puzzles are never difficult. But they're not designed to stump you. Rather they're meant - like Klonoa's central double-jump mechanic - to engage you in your surroundings, and to encourage full use of the environment. By design, Empire of Dreams is a game that invites you to enjoy the little things. An array of different foes and environmental elements are introduced as you progress through the game, bringing new puzzle-solving techniques with them and making each world feel fresh in gameplay as well as visual style. The level design is fantastic throughout, and keeps a strong sense of forward momentum even when there's backtracking involved. It's very difficult to get lost, and since enemies and objects respawn automatically, you'll never be stuck having to restart a Vision.

The main puzzle levels are broken up by two faster-paced stage types, with both forced-scrolling platforming and side-view hoverboarding sequences thrown into the mix. Yes, Empire of Dreams hails from the Sonic Adventure 2 era, when every mammalian mascot worth their salt added some sort of extreme board-sport to their résumé, but Klonoa feels like he comes by his hoverboard honestly. These stages are a lot of fun, and collecting all 100 optional gems requires quick thinking, split-second jumps and likely a lot of replay. The forced-scrolling levels in particular are beautifully designed, easy enough to complete without being frustrating, but with gems placed tantalizingly just out of reach so that you're always tempted to risk squeezing in another double-jump or potentially deadly detour.

Even as an early Game Boy Advance release, Empire of Dreams looks wonderful, making excellent use of the system's impressive 2D capabilities. Sprite scaling and rotation add real personality to Klonoa's foes, environments, and boss battles, while parallax scrolling brings the multi-layered backgrounds to life. Animations are beautiful, the sprites are charming, and the bright colour palette means that the game thoughtfully lends itself to easy viewing even on the non-backlit first generation Game Boy Advance. The visual themes in the different worlds also skip the usual platformer clichés of fire, fire and so on, and are much the richer for it; the opera house-themed second world is a real highlight.

The soundtrack was a stand out feature of both Klonoa's console outings, and this portable version lives up to their musical legacy, albeit on a smaller scale. The loops are shorter, but the series' trademark sound is still here in spades, with catchy melodies lilting over the action and often evocative of the wind mentioned in our hero's Japanese name (Kaze no Klonoa - "Klonoa of the Wind"). The impressive voice samples included are also a treat, and Klonoa's trademark "Wahoo!" adds a gleeful sense of triumph to every double-jump.

Empire of Dreams has 40 Visions spread out over its 5 worlds, and while it's not a lengthy game by today's standards - you could easily beat it in a weekend - the short stages are perfect for portable play. You can go back to previously cleared Visions at any time, and there are extras to be unlocked by collecting every gem in every level, which significantly extends the replay value for ambitious players.

Conclusion

The Game Boy Advance was blessed with an enviable and nearly endless parade of platformers over its lifespan, and this game stands out as one of the very best. With thoroughly satisfying mechanics and more charm in the opening stages than many games manage by the closing credits, Klonoa: Empire of Dreams is an absolute joy. If you loved Klonoa's big screen adventures, you'll love this handheld version both for the same reasons and for its distinct, pocket-sized personality; and if you've never had the pleasure of taking a trip with Namco's fuzzy Dream Traveller, this is a wonderful place to start.

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User Comments (43)

Mahe

#5

Mahe said:

This was a well-crafted game back in the day. Would be nice to see a new Klonoa somewhere, indeed.

EveningEmma

#6

EveningEmma said:

I just finished playing this game myself. Couldn't agree with you more, what a fantastic game!

TeeJay

#7

TeeJay said:

I remember playing a Klonoa game in my childhood...was it for the DS? I can't remember...

rosebud

#8

rosebud said:

This was one of my favorite GBA games. Absolutely fantastic. I still play it from time to time, and my 9 year old son will forsake the 3DS sometimes to play this game and the original Advance Wars on the old SP.

Wonder_Ideal

#9

Wonder_Ideal said:

Sounds like a cool game. It would be nice if it was put on the 3DS VC so it would be easier to get a hold of it.

CanisWolfred

#10

CanisWolfred said:

Freakin' love this game. Klonoa always rocks and this was no exception. Reviewer hit all the reasons why, too. Except I think I did get stuck having to restart a vision once, but maybe that was a different one. Anyways, I'm sad the series never did as well as it should've. It really is full of greatness.

@DiscordedTeeJay There was no DS game. Unless you're thinking of Cookie & Cream, it was probably a GBA game you played on your DS. Or, you know, a console game.

True_Hero

#11

True_Hero said:

Sounds like a great game. I've been thinking about giving Klonoa a shot at some point.

Boo_Buster

#12

Boo_Buster said:

Just wondering what the reason for posting an 11+ year old game's review is? I mean, it's your prerogative and your website, but if I may... why? If someone wants to play this game it seems like it'd be a rather painstakingly difficult task to acquire it. Having said that, the Klonoa series has always intrigued me and a new game would be welcomed on say... The Wii U

sketchturner

#13

sketchturner said:

I love that they post reviews of old games. It inspires me to go back and pick up games I may have missed. Plus it's just fun to read another person's opinion of games I played back in the day. Personally, I still buy GBA games on a regular basis.

CanisWolfred

#15

CanisWolfred said:

@Boo_Buster Because they have the time? It's been kinda slow on the Nintendo Front lately, though that'll likely end soon. This site also has a lot of retro gamers, and they used to do retro reviews on a weekly basis. I think the better question is why would reviewing an old game that few people know about be a problem?

And it's not a difficult task to aquire it. I bought it from a retro shop for $4 just last year. The only reason I hadn't gotten it sooner on Amazon or eBay, which have plenty of copies for absurdly low prices at the time of writing, was simply because I had borrowed it from a friend when I was a kid and had already played quite a bit of it. It's not a rare game by any means. Honestly, all Klonoa games are pretty easy to get, I don't understand why so many people don't play them.

Knux

#16

Knux said:

Wow, there are so many awesome GBA games to buy and so little money right now... :(

WiiLovePeace

#17

WiiLovePeace said:

Great review! I love seeing new reviews of old classics, just wish I could finish some of the current games I'm playing so I can move on to others. I have an odd habit of enjoying a game for a time, then getting excited about a new game & never finishing the previous one in an endless cycle of unfinished games. Hence one day I'll get into the Klonoa series.

TeeJay

#18

TeeJay said:

@Jon_Talbain Looking back at the review, I definitely remember that giant pink boss, so it must have been this game that I was playing on my DS like you said.

V8_Ninja

#19

V8_Ninja said:

Actually, I found Klonoa; EOD to be quite bland while I played it. For me the game is just a bit too slow and the environments feel to restricted. But I will agree that the Klonoa series has always had a unique charm.

ecco6t9

#20

ecco6t9 said:

The game is amazing, it would be nice one day to have the GBA on the 3DS Virtual Console.

But until then collecting GBA games is a thrilling experience.

cheetahman91

#23

cheetahman91 said:

Glad to see you guys are still reviewing retro games. Been a while since I've seen any new ones.

RR529

#24

RR529 said:

I've never played any Klonoa games, but I'd like to. I had this demo disc on Playstation as a kid, that had a Klonoa demo, and I used to play that over & over.

FonistofCruxis

#28

FonistofCruxis said:

I've never played a Klonoa game. Maybe the Wii remake of the first one would be a good place to start. Great review btw.

WaveBoy

#29

WaveBoy said:

Klonoa for the Wii is a masterpiece in my eyes. Possibly the most Surreal and Dreamiest 2D platformer I've ever played. Ya it may be lacking in difficulty(which is usually a big 'naddah wadahh' in my bogus books),but it does everything else so extremely well. :D And that soundtrack? Possibly one of the most amazing scores in gaming history!

Boo_Buster

#31

Boo_Buster said:

We do retro reviews because we can. If you have any other questions, please feel free to ask us directly as opposed to laying into your fellow users for no reason. Thanks in advance! — TBD

I would like to give this series a try, it looks fun.

CanisWolfred

#33

CanisWolfred said:

daw, I missed the excitement...

I just remembered that it was Klonoa 2 GBA that I got stuck in, so I guess this is a top-notch review after all.

SuperKMx

#36

SuperKMx said:

Superb review, Morgan - and I totally agree! Empire of Dreams was a fantastic game - might dig it out again for the weekend. :)

Boo_Buster

#37

Boo_Buster said:

@Boo_Buster I lay into users who deserve it because I can, if you enjoy reasons like that, which it seems you do. Actually I'm rather nice to those who return the kindness. Thanks for replying to my question, eventually. Although everything's eventual. This is what happens when a inch brain takes your question completely out of context. It was just a simple question asking why. I have no problems with retro reviews, just asking why. It seems you have over-reacted as well. Imagine that? I'd hate to live in a world where people are afraid to ask questions and those same people are so easily offended... Oh wait, I do.

NImH

#39

NImH said:

This review made me hunt down a copy. I have never been so pleased and amazed that such a gem completely escaped me for so long! I am very impressed. I have no quibbles with the 9/10 rating. I'd even go 9.5. It's a classic.

Frapp

#40

Frapp said:

The second GBA Dream Champ Tournament is also very good. I oculdn't get on with the third game Klonoa Heroes though – 3D and heavy emphasis on collection.

Pod

#41

Pod said:

I was really really happy with this game when I played it those ten years ago.

To the point where I got rather disappointed upon buying the Wii remake of the very first Klonoa, as the puzzles and bonus levels simply don't compare in quality or imagination.

Glad to see this gem still recognized.

phillippe9284

#42

phillippe9284 said:

This game looks cool.Maybe since Namco Bandai is working with Nintendo to make Super Smash Bros 4, then they might include Klonoa in it.

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