I’m a big fan of rhythm games. Most of the rhythm games I’ve played are those from major franchises, such as Rock Band and Dance Dance Revolution, but there are also games such as the Bit Trip series which may only utilize a couple of buttons for some of the games, but the fun lies in the pure challenge of trying to keep up with the rhythm of the music. That’s where HarmoKnight comes into play. While Game Freak has made plenty of games in the past, they’re probably most well known today for developing the core Pokemon games (meaning games like Red, Blue, Diamond, etc). However, it’s time to see if they can still make a hit game that doesn’t revolve around Pokemon.
You play Tempo, a young boy under the teachings of Master Woodwind who sets out on a journey to Symphony City to give a special staff to the Princess of Melodia, a staff typically only wielded by those deemed worthy of being a HarmoKnight. However, upon reaching Symphony City a creature named Gargan, leader of a group of creatures called Noizoids, captures the princess. Now, Tempo and his rabbit partner Tappy must set out to defeat the Noizoids, rescue the princess, and save Melodia. His day went from just trying to take a staff to the princess to learning the ways of the staff and becoming a true HarmoKnight.
The gameplay in HarmoKnight is rather simple…at first. Each stage of the game is auto-scrolling and the first few stages take you through the paces of the two basic controls: jumping and swinging the staff. Your goal in each stage is to collect as many notes as possible while just surviving until the end. This can be done by either collecting them out in the open, hitting enemies with your staff, or hitting various instruments scattered throughout the stage, such as cymbals, tambourines, and triangles. Everything done in the stage is done to the rhythm of that stage’s song, so as long as you pay attention and keep up with the rhythm, it’s not too complicated in the early going.
As the game progresses you’re introduced to three new characters: Lyra and the duo of Tyko and Cymbi (if you haven’t figured it out yet, the names of characters and places you travel to are based on musical terms). Occasionally in various stages, you’ll automatically switch Tempo out for either Lyra or Tyko & Cymbi for a little bit. As Lyra, you’ll attack your enemies with a bow and arrow while Tyko and Cymbi use drum sticks and cymbals. After a certain point, you’ll swap back to Tempo to finish the stage. To be honest, I feel as this was a bit of a let down. Not the concept of using the other characters, but it feels like they weren’t used enough. There are only a few stages where each of the characters get their times to shine, but it would have been awesome if there were entire stages for each character. Yeah, I know the game is mostly about Tempo becoming a HarmoKnight, but I’d rather get a few full stages of the other characters than a few partial stages. Still, it does shake things up a bit.
At the end of most of the worlds you’ll go through a boss stage. This is basically remembering the rhythm at which enemies or obstacles are launched at you. Think of it like Simon. You’re shown a pattern and you must repeat it back. However, with boss stages it’s not just jumping and attacking, as dodging is also introduced. Early on you only have to worry about left and right, but towards the end the game throws in up and down. The boss fights aren’t too tough early on, but as the game progresses, they definitely get harder, not just in the patterns they throw at you but at how lenient the game gets with your attacks.
While you’re collecting notes in each stage, that’s not the only thing to shoot for. At the end of each stage you’ll get a ranking of sorts. If you get a ranking of Good or Great, you’ll get a Royal Note. Certain paths have an obstacle in the way that can only be removed after collecting a certain number of Royal Notes. Most of those obstacles are required to be removed to progress the game. However, obtaining a Good ranking isn’t all that hard. While I did have trouble with some of the later stages, there was only one stage that I finished with a ranking lower than Good (which in my case was So-So), so as long as you’re paying attention to the level and the rhythm of the music, you’ll likely get at least a Good ranking just by finishing the stage. However, be warned that to get a Great ranking on the boss stages, you have to be almost perfect. You might be allowed to miss one attack or jump, but even then you might only get a Good ranking.
The main game doesn't take incredibly long to complete (maybe a few hours or so, depending on how good you are), but once you’re finished there’s a bit more to do. For instance, several worlds will have bonus songs you can unlock to challenge yourself to. I won’t give away what the songs are exactly, but they’re from another series developed by Game Freak. Also, for every song you complete with a Great ranking (shown by a gold flower), you can then play a faster version of the same stage. Completing the faster version with a Great ranking unlocks some artwork for that stage (unfortunately, you don’t get any Royal Notes for the faster versions of the stages). There are also five stages that an alternate path with white platforms. While taking these paths really devoids you of notes, you’ll find a brown barrel at the end with a bird inside. These unlocks something that can only be accessed after the game is finished (in fact, you actually have to finish the game to even find one of the birds).
HarmoKnight is an incredibly fun game, but it does have one little flaw that may turn off some people: the game isn’t too incredibly difficult. As stated above, there was really only one stage in which I received a ranking less than Great. However, it’s not entirely simple as the stages do get trickier as you get later into the game, so it’s really only a minor complaint. Beyond that, I also wish that there was more than just jumping and attacking. Granted there are a couple stages where you’re in a mine cart and you can attack with cymbals and raise and lower the cart to avoid obstacles, and Lyra can also slide after progressing so far into the game, but as you’re playing Tempo most of the game, it would have been nice if you could slide or dodge outside of boss battles. Beyond that though, HarmoKnight is fun for those into rhythm games. If you’re not put off by simple games like the Bit Trip series, I’d say definitely give HarmoKnight a shot.