The explosion of the indie scene has led to a renaissance for the platformer. The influx of games in the genre has also led to a constant battle for attention that can cause many of them to be overlooked. One of the latest games to break into the platformer scene is KLAUS, but does it stand out above the rest, or is it just another title to get swept away with the crowd?
KLAUS is a stylized 2D puzzle-platformer from La Cosa Entertainment, and is the studio’s first title. As the premise of the game’s story is about self-discovery, I will leave out the majority of details about who and where you are. All you know is that you wake up in the basement of a building with the word KLAUS written on your arm. Then the game begins.
The story of KLAUS retreads a lot of the same themes that seem to be popping up in games and other media lately. It’s because of this that I didn’t find it to be terribly impactful since I’ve already consumed many similar stories, but it was well told and a pleasant experience overall. The method in which the story is told is one of KLAUS’ high points and something I enjoyed very much.
No audible words are used in KLAUS. There are lots of sounds to signify speaking, but no actual words are said. Instead, text appears within the game world as you progress through the levels. Most of the story surrounding the protagonist, Klaus, is also revealed through finding secret colored orbs that send him into isolated and markedly different levels where Klaus regains fragments of his memories upon completion. Outside of the words, the environments themselves are used very well to help tell the story, as well as create a charming atmosphere as you play – color schemes, environment interactables, and threats change from level to level in a way that helps to reaffirm player progression, creating enough variety to avoid feeling repetitive.
The art style of KLAUS is something that I greatly enjoyed and is executed very well overall. My first impressions of the game made me think of Guacamelee! and Sound Shapes, with character faces/expressions seemingly inspired by Charles M. Schulz of Charlie Brown fame. One exception to my praise of KLAUS’ artistry is the fifth level of the game called “Glitch World.” [MINOR SPOILER] This section of the game takes place inside of a computer terminal that is on the fritz. Conceptually it is executed brilliantly with clever mechanics unique to that section of the game, but I would not recommend sitting close to a large screen while playing this chapter with the amount of flickering and sporadic pixilation going on. [END SPOILER] I wasn’t able to appreciate this portion of the game until returning to it later to finish up grabbing a couple of the secrets for the game’s true ending, as the first time I just wanted to get through it quickly and return to the game’s previous aesthetic.
KLAUS is advertised as a puzzle-platformer with 6-8 hours of playable story. Technically speaking, KLAUS is a puzzle-platformer, but at no point during the game did I feel challenged or like I was solving a puzzle. It was more like carrying out routine events in order to progress through the story. I also completed the game and gathered all of the secrets in just a little over four hours, meaning I beat the game in nearly half the amount of time promised on my first try. I would also hardly call the “secrets” scattered around the levels secrets at all. Just being mildly observant of your surroundings will lead you to almost all of the them. The only secret that could be potentially tricky is one opening that is forced out of camera after you’ve moved past it.
Mechanically speaking, KLAUS is a very polished platformer that takes influences from a plethora of games before it. It’s nice to see so many nods to its precursors, but many of these nods run the risk of feeling like just a novelty to have in the game rather than actually benefiting it or raising it above the surrounding competition. You would also expect a game that calls back to games like Mega Man to be far more challenging. Part of the reason for KLAUS not being very difficult is the high frequency of checkpoints and unlimited lives. There is absolutely no penalty for dying other than having to redo one or two jumps. While it makes progressing through the story simple, there’s just too much handholding throughout the game to allow any real feeling of accomplishment by the player.
While it may not present much of a gameplay challenge, KLAUS controls extremely well as a classic platformer and feels fantastic for the most part. As I said earlier, there are a lot of nods to previous titles, like controlling multiple characters, moving platforms, hacking terminals, wall jumping, control swapping, spike traps, etc. There is also a unique mechanic introduced in the game that seeks to leverage the PS4’s controller touchpad. Certain objects and platforms in the game can be manipulated by using the touchpad to first select it. I’m glad to see developers continuing to experiment with the new features of current gen consoles, but this simply feels like a gimmick to try and give reason to the touchpad’s existence. This feature functions properly with the controller, but it’s a clunky and unnecessary addition that just slows you down.
Overall, KLAUS is a decent 2D platformer with great art direction and music. While its gameplay is solid, it seems to have been given a backseat to storytelling. The story itself hits a lot of familiar beats, but how it tells its story is done extremely well. A wide array of modern and classic platformer mechanics are used in interesting ways to reinforce the tone of the story, but many of them are one-offs that don’t add to or continue supporting the gameplay. There is no character progression through the gameplay to give you a sense of accomplishment either, like earning a new ability or move that allows you to navigate previously unreachable areas. It’s a very linear and straight-forward game that lacks any real challenge for experienced gamers and can be beaten in several hours. While I wouldn’t consider KLAUS a must-play for eager gamers, it is an incredibly solid foundation for La Cosa Entertainment to build upon for their future titles, and I am looking forward to what they come up with next.