Klonoa's never really gotten the recognition he deserves, has he? The floppy-eared hero's original adventure, released for PlayStation in 1997 and given a superb Wii remake in 2008, was an extraordinary 2.5D platformer that forced players to take a different perspective on the action. Following this, Klonoa got multiple releases on several other platforms, including the PlayStation 2, WonderSwan, and finally the Game Boy Advance. Unfortunately, to this day, Klonoa is rarely mentioned in the same sentence as other platforming giants like Mario and Sonic.
That being said, Klonoa's exclusion is certainly not due to a lack of quality in his titles: in the same vein as his masterful back catalogue, Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament is a tight, well-designed platformer that remains satisfying from beginning to end - even if much of the territory here has been covered before.
The story, as it is in all Klonoa titles, is a breezy and lighthearted one. In the opening animation a piece of paper drifts into the hero's hands inviting him to the eponymous Dream Champ Tournament. When he arrives, he and the other competitors - including new "rival" character Gantz - are informed by the master of ceremonies, the not-at-all-sinister-looking Garlen, that whoever wins the tournament will be crowned the "Greatest Hero" and earn a cash reward. It's a silly narrative and predictable to the last, but it's told with a genuine sweetness and joy that isn't often seen in games today.
Most platformers aren't known for their narrative prowess, of course; like so many beloved entries in the genre, it's the gameplay that makes Dream Champ Tournament such a satisfying play. The formula from Klonoa: Empire of Dreams, also recently released for Wii U Virtual Console, is mostly intact here: Klonoa's main gimmick involves picking up enemies, which he can then either throw or use to gain an extra jump (accompanied, as always, by an adorable "Wahoo!"). Each stage also holds a multitude of shiny collectables to grab that will undoubtedly bring out your inner completionist - perfecting a run to get everything can be tricky, but the controls and level design never feel unfair.
Compared to its predecessor, Dream Champ Tournament seems to place heavier emphasis on puzzle-solving, but there will be a strong sense of familiarity for those who enjoyed the previous adventure. Still, getting more of a great thing is hardly worth complaining about, and the design and mechanics on display here are routinely excellent. If there's one major area the game falls short in, it's the race-like "bosses"; these frustrating gauntlets involve a little too much trial-and-error and lack the gratifying pattern-based strategy of bosses from earlier titles in the series.
Visually, Dream Champ Tournament reuses a lot of the most basic assets from the first GBA title, but elsewhere the graphics are an area in which a clear improvement has been made. Make no mistake, Empire of Dreams looked nice, but many of the environments came off as a bit plain; here, everything is even more dynamic, colourful and engaging. Parallax scrolling really helps the backgrounds pop, and the animated backgrounds - which feature details like schools of fish swimming by in underwater sections - are brilliant. This reviewer appreciated the second world most of all, which takes place on a train and features many layers of scrolling backdrops to create quite a striking effect.
The soundtrack might not be as memorable or catchy as those of other platformers, but it's a cheery collection of bouncy tunes that back up the action effectively enough. Sound-wise, Klonoa is right up there with Kirby - he's got one of the cutest voices of any character in gaming, and that's a good thing - you're going to hear a lot of "Wahoo!"-ing on your way to the end credits.
Klonoa 2: Dream Champ Tournament is yet another fantastic entry in the often-overlooked series. Tight controls, creative level design, and vibrant graphics all add up to one of the most satisfying adventures made for the Game Boy Advance. The boss races can be irritating, and there's definitely a sense of déjà vu in the proceedings, but these are niggling complaints at worst. If you like platformers and are looking for your next fix of hop-and-bop action, look no further: Klonoa's got you covered.