Design of Orion’s Odyssey – 3 – Deleting Pieces and Intuitive Mechanics

Last time I talked about how we accomplished Orion Odyssey’s tutorial screen without making it too intrusive. Overall we succeeded, but if there’s one awkward part of the tutorial, it’s the final screen. We used this screen to explain how to delete pieces; by dragging them back to the dashboard on the right hand side of the screen. The information is accurate but it runs contrary to the design of the previous screens; each screen before this moment taught an action necessary to complete that section of the tutorial. It gave the player necessary information they needed and rewarded them for the action with the game’s typical puzzle solved fanfare and victory screen. Here, learning to delete a piece was not necessary to completing the screen, and as a result we had many players confused; they’d successfully learn to delete a piece, but they expected the game to continue. They had successfully completed the action they were taught after all, and that’s the expectation that had been set at that point.

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Our thought process at the time made sense. Deleting pieces seems like a complicated action that wouldn’t be immediately apparent if you hadn’t played the game. And yet, in hindsight, I’d have removed this part of the tutorial if I were to do it again. Having taken the game on the road, we’ve noticed that explaining to players how to delete pieces was actually unnecessary; almost everyone who plays the game has deleted pieces on their own without ever asking us how to do it or even questioning the actions they were doing, as if they had always known the entire time. How is this possible?

Despite what seems like common sense, deleting pieces in Orion’s Odyssey is actually a very intuitive process, and this is because the process of creating pieces is also very intuitive. In order to differentiate the game from Tangrams, which only used one of seven total pieces, we created buttons for each piece and put them on the dashboard to the right. They look very much what a button should look like: raised up from the background, inviting the player to try pushing them down. Sure enough, the buttons depress with a tap of the finger or stylus, and a piece appears. So when a player decides they no longer need a piece or if the piece won’t fit where they tried, why not put the piece back where they had gotten it from? Combined with proper feedback from the game (the dashboard lights up and the piece counter changes to a graphic of a trash can), the reverse action feels like an obvious action.
The take away for budding designers is to consider what actions are the most intuitive and natural feeling for the player. Smash Brothers features a very elegant system that maps directional attacks to the direction that the controller is tilted towards; until recently, Assassin Creed games mapped specific actions to buttons that correspond with the avatar’s limbs (left and right arms were mapped to the left and right face buttons, head actions to the top button, and running/mobility actions to the bottom button); and even in Orion’s Odyssey, simply reversing your previous motions reverses previous actions. Intuitive mechanics such as these will feel more natural to the player, and minimize the amount of hand holding you need to move players through your game.

Design of Orion’s Odyssey – 2 – Tutorial

Like many game designers, I have an irrational aversion to tutorials. One of my goals is to make a game that can fully immerse the player; to get them so involved in the fantasy they forget that they’re holding the controller, and tutorials are by nature the complete antithesis to that ideal. They break the fantasy by speaking directly to the player and referring to whatever input device they’re using, be it their controller or phone or what not. The preferred method is to have the opening level be able to teach the player by providing a relatively safe space that is designed in such a way to introduce all of the mechanics or controls they need to succeed at the game without ever needing to point them in the right direction. It keeps the immersion in place and allows the player to feel as if they overcame all of the obstacles themselves. The gold standard for this method is widely considered to be the first stage of Super Mario Bros. There are many places to find a good breakdown for why this level succeeds. This is one of my favorites.

Early on we realized that this method was not going to be the way to go with Orion’s Odyssey. First of all, games are much more complicated than they were in the days of Super Mario Bros., and many are designed with the idea that you may have working knowledge of the kind of game you’re playing. This being a game with a focus on education, it didn’t resemble many of the games that someone would be familiar with, and there was a very good chance whoever was playing may have never touched a video game before. Second, this being a Nintendo DS title that mostly focused on the touch screen (and was being developed around the time that touch screens were still a pretty new idea), it was an input device that not everyone was completely used to. Simply put, how to play the game was just not intuitive enough to reasonably expect players to know what to do out the gate, no matter how simple the first puzzle.

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These were all issues that existed for Hands On! Tangrams too. In that game, we had three screens that described the button layout and how to use the stylus to manipulate the tans to the player before they could play the first puzzle. In retrospect; this wasn’t the most elegant solution. It was a load of text to dump on the player with no warning and no other gameplay, and it was easily ignored. Considering this, and the fact that pattern blocks are a slightly more complicated kind of puzzle compared to tangrams, I knew from the beginning I wanted something more engaging in Orion’s Odyssey.

Thankfully, Orion’s Odyssey had a big advantage over Tangrams, which was that the primary game mode had a story. Unlike Tangrams, which was more akin to an activity book, Orion’s Odyssey told a story of an intergalactic robot who had come to Earth on the top screen that continued once the player completed puzzles on the bottom screen. This allowed us to naturally integrate the tutorial into the game using the narrative as a framing device. This accomplished a few goals; First, it would allow the player to become accustomed to the game’s flow of switching between the bottom screen and the top screen without any direction from us. Second, while many of the game’s inputs would still need to be explained directly with text, it never left the context of the narrative and thus, minimized breaking the immersion of the game itself. And last and most importantly, we could convey more complex ideas without having to use text at all.

As I mentioned in the last entry, pattern blocks can create a near infinite amount of pictures using a combination of pieces rather than Tangrams limit of seven individual pieces. Since one of the purposes of pattern blocks is to teach how smaller shapes can be used to create bigger shapes, one of the systems we implemented to help make the game engaging was a scoring system that encouraged limiting the amount of pieces the player uses to solve each puzzle. Rather than try to mention that via the tutorial text and risk overloading the player, we integrated it into the tutorial itself.

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At the beginning of the story, Orion crash lands his ship on Earth, and before he can leave the ship, he has to input a series of passcodes that incidentally work the same way as solving a pattern block puzzle once he leaves the ship. There are 4 puzzles, and each one is the same puzzle; a simple octagon. That octagon however, has to be solved with one type of piece in each of the four segments, starting with the octagon itself. This allowed us to pace the tutorial and the text instructions for the player so they wouldn’t be bogged down with information until they had already successfully read and interpreted the instruction. The single octagon teaches the player how to generate and move the piece, the two trapezoid pieces teach the player how to rotate a piece, the three parallelograms teach the player how and when to flip, and finally the six triangle pieces explain how to delete a piece the player doesn’t need.

But the best part is that it teaches the player how pattern blocks work without ever saying a word about it. By taking the game’s biggest piece and then breaking it down into chunks using the other available pieces, it shows that two trapezoids in the game can be replaced by one octagon, simply by having the player do that action in a controlled and safe environment, similar to the method that are seen in more traditional games.

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So while the methods used by classic and mainstream games aren’t always the best option, that doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer. Every game is different though, so when creating your tutorial, consider your audience and the platform that’s delivering your game so that the player starts off with the most engaging experience possible.

Design of Orion’s Odyssey – 1 – Puzzle Solving

There are a lot of superficial similarities between Island Officials second DS title, Orion’s Odyssey, and our first, Hands On! Tangrams. This was partially a pragmatic decision; by making a follow up in the same genre, we could reuse many of the assets and code we had used before for a faster development time. Simple, right?

Of course it wasn’t, as these things tend to go. Pattern blocks are a very different beast than tangrams, the biggest of which being the lack of restrictions; while tangrams involve using seven distinct shapes to fill in a small boundary box, pattern blocks lets you use an infinite number of pieces (here limited to 30 to meet Nintendo DS sprite limitations) from a set of six shapes. That means there’s a massive number of solutions to any one pattern blocks puzzle as opposed to the one or two solutions a tangrams puzzle may have. This posed a number of technical and programming issues I won’t bother detailing here, but it also raised new design issues too.

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Pictured: Hands On! Tangrams (left), Orion’s Odyssey (right)

Tangrams are limited by design; in order to solve any given puzzle, The player must use every shape in order to complete the puzzle they’re given. Pattern blocks are much more free-form and creative, allowing the puzzle to be solved in many different ways with any combination of pieces. This more open approach lead to a number of challenges; despite similar controls and mechanics, puzzles had to be approached from a different angle, not just for players but for our development team as well, something I hadn’t prepared for at the beginning of the project.

Much of my time during Pattern Blocks development was spent testing the game for bugs and glitches. We’re a small team who doesn’t have the luxury of hiring a full QA staff or outsourcing to other companies, so the design and production staff spends most of our time in the trenches making sure the game is viable and on track during the development cycle. One day, around the time we had finished our new algorithm that allowed the game to be solved when the puzzle area had been filled in correctly, I noticed that the game wouldn’t read the puzzle as completed until all other pieces were off the board. Thinking it was some kind of bug I had run into, I ran over to our tech lead to show him the issue.

“You consider that solved?” he said, giving me an incredulous look.

I was flabbergasted in the moment; how could it not be considered solved? The puzzle area was filled correctly, meaning the player had used correct spatial reasoning to achieve the stated goal. But the programmer didn’t see it this way, because we had two different outlooks on what was considered the playable area:

Pictured: Two modes of thinking

Pictured: Two modes of thinking

Thinking this may have been a communication breakdown between a creative and a programmer’s approach to problem solving, I quickly grabbed one of our artists to ask their opinion on the matter, but I didn’t get the reaction I was expecting. “You consider that solved?” I was dumbstruck. What seemed obvious was now a matter of confusion and frustration for my small team. I needed a clear, easy way to explain where I was coming from with this issue. So I broke out the tub of physical pattern blocks we had been bringing to public showings of the game.

I broke down the elements of the game much in the same way as the illustration above, using the physical pieces. I explained the tub was the buttons on the side which generated pieces; a finite but plentiful box which could be pulled from and away from the play area, which was the table itself. I grabbed more than I needed but made a image with a few of the pieces I had pulled and explained the goal – the puzzle itself – was the image I was making. The table itself was not part of the puzzle, but a tool I could use if I needed it. This instantly cleared up any issue with everyone, including my art director who came by during the demonstration but said she wouldn’t have even second guessed the puzzle not solving if there were stray pieces on the board.

This was a small but no less important hiccup that we ran into while working on Orion’s Odyssey, but it served an important reminder; no matter how obvious something seems when you’re designing your game, you can only look at it from your own perspective. We playtest and iterate design constantly from player feedback because every player plays differently, and team members and their work habits are no different in that respect. It’s your responsibility to think of every possible outcome and permutation of a design and to communicate the effects of those permutations clearly and accurately so that everyone on the team can understand it because no matter how simple something seems from the outset, it’s usually anything but.

I Want to Talk About Fez

Is that cool? Are people still sick of talking about it? Because I really want to talk about it.

Karen and I played through Fez together on XBLA around the time of its release and it remains one of the best co-op experiences I’ve had in a game (Co-op here being more in the meta sense; we pored through the rooms together, deciphering the puzzles and cryptic languages – we still find scattered papers filled with the notes Karen took around the apartment from time to time). More recently, RPG fatigue that had set in from a full clear Suikoden 1 playthrough got me to boot the game up again on my Vita. Instantly I was reminded at just how laidback this game is; when you’re not hunched over a notepad writing down a bunch of notes, the experience is solely cathartic – there’s no time limits, no real punishment for failure; just simple platforming, tranquil music and a world chock full of secrets and puzzles that can be explored at your own leisure or pace.
That kind of experience isn’t for everyone of course, but it’s baffling the kind of vehement response you’ll get even whispering the name ‘Fez’. A lot of that has to do with the history and pedigree behind it, but divorced from that context for the briefest of seconds, it’s hard to see Fez as anything but a fairly innocuous game – a Myst-style puzzle adventure that trades a first-person perspective and context for sidescrolling platforming.
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Fez gets labeled a lot of things by detractors, in particular ‘pretentious’ gets thrown around a lot. What exactly the pretense is, I haven’t figured out. It doesn’t over present, it makes no grand statements; it’s very much earnest and comfortable in its own skin as a pure play experience. Even the ending resists the temptation to clumsily indulge in some crazy twist or Kubrick-style mindfuckery, opting instead to be as chill and laidback as the rest of the game.

Can gameplay mechanics be pretentious? I’m not sure they can be, but for as much mudslinging is thrown at Fez’s puzzle-box, there’s a surprising lack of anything that hasn’t been done in much more beloved games. The ancient cryptogram language you need to decipher? The aforementioned Myst did that already. Meta-puzzles such as the infamous QR code room or the solution hidden in the trophy description? We’ve seen those as far back as Metal Gear 2 and StarTropics. And those games are both action games! They break the rules of their own genre, which is about the best argument I can make for actually pretentious game design. A binary code that’s signaled via flashing light? … ok that’s a new one on me. Being ‘new’ isn’t the same as ‘pretentious’ though and – thank God – it’s optional.

Fez isn’t pretentious or honestly anything all that special. But that’s what makes it a pretty great game. It’s a minimalist and unassuming puzzle game that doesn’t care all that much if or when you uncover all its secrets. It just wants you to have a good time whether you need to pause constantly to flip through pages of handwritten notes or just want to jump around and take in the sights. And who could get mad at something like that?

Image credit: Gematsu.com

Anatomy of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile – 5 – Vision 1-1: Beginnings of Gale part 2: The Test

The Anatomy of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile series was originally posted on the Return of Talking Time message board and is inspired by the Anatomy of Games series by Jeremy Parish. If you enjoy this series, please check out Jeremy’s website for more analyses of your favorite games or consider purchasing the book compilations for sale at Blurb.com.

The back half of Vision 1-1 may be about utilizing Klonoa’s skillsets on your own, but that doesn’t mean you’re done learning yet. It simply allows the designers to slowly introduce the versatility Klonoa’s move set offers while also not completely overwhelming the player. In turn, this has the effect of easing the player into the puzzle side of Door to Phantomile’s gameplay, starting with the introduction of Breezegail’s stage gimmick: the fan. In true video gamey fashion, these fans use giant gusts of wind to blow Klonoa up vertically within the fan’s width, this one demonstrating their functionality and total height by a trail of gems. The true prize however is a short distance outside of the fan’s operative area: the second villager token, slightly out of reach of the player’s wind bullet. It’s entirely possible to move Klonoa over to the right and grab the token on descent with a well timed shot, but that’s more because of the forgiving nature of this particular puzzle; successfully pulling this off is finicky at best and presumably rough for first time players. The true solution is to bring up a Moo that’s positioned just to the left of the fan with you and then either a.) double jump at the top of the fan’s arc giving you much more time and distance or b.) toss the enemy at the token. Either option reinforces abilities the player has used plenty by now while also introducing how level hazards can be used in combination with those skills.

After a short slide down a steep incline (the momentum of which is demonstrated by a Moo), there’s a man-made cavern (along with the third villager token above the entrance) built into the side of the mountain. This isn’t the next part of the stage, not really. The cave is only occupied by Balue, a stonemason who lays down exposition as well as he does bricks: the effigy on the side of the mountain is the visage of Lephise, the songstress of the Moon Kingdom who sings the Song of Rebirth. All of these words mean nothing to Klonoa or Huepow – and by extension the player – but they’re important enough to Balue that he’s willing to build this structure to reach the Moon Kingdom, Babel-style.

On the opposite side of the cave are two flying Moos – Moos with wings that bob up and down like the Tetons but don’t propel Klonoa upward upon being grabbed – and a green and blue gem stacked vertically atop one another between the two. Obtaining the two gems reveals the location of the fourth villager token, but it’s well out of reach with one double jump. This area provides multiple options for the player; savvy or experienced players can use both Moos to perform a chain-double jump (in this case a triple jump), but there’s an easier way. Just left of the flying Moos is the game’s first branching path in the form of an upper and lower boardwalk. The upper path is highlighted by a trail of gems that starts vertically and then continues down the path, and also makes the fourth token much more accessible.

Normally a path that’s obviously highlighted by breadcrumbs is the critical path, but that’s not the case here – the upper path takes Klonoa around in a circle with optional goodies (lots of gems, a full health pick-up and the game’s first 1-up corin) and a new enemy (the indestructible and ungrabbable Spiker, a true-to-his-name spiked ball that hovers like the Tetons and flying Moos) before dropping Klonoa off at the beginning of the upper path and pointed toward the right so you can easily backtrack and take the other way. Aside from familiarizing the player with a couple new items, this roundabout is actually designed to help the player 1.) learn about alternate paths and 2.) wrap their heads around Klonoa’s unique level structure by showing off new, tantalizing items in the background a bit ahead of where the player will actually pick them up:

 

The final stretch of the stage is a mad dash to the exit – a straight, narrow path along bridges that are too narrow to really jump or move around vertically. This helps introduce the final pick up Klonoa has to teach the player about – a strange, Pokemon-esque fairy that lives in an item bubble (named aptly ‘the Bubble Fairy’) that doubles the amount of all gems for about 5 seconds. A helpful box in the upper right corner tells the player about the effect while it’s happening, but a trail of gems along a narrow path helps to reinforce the idea, just in case. The fifth villager token is also along this trail, placed right around the place where the double gem effect finishes off.

There’s no clear finish line or marker for the end of a stage. Vision’s in Klonoa just sort of end where the plot needs Klonoa to go next, this time into a cave along the side of the mountain. It happens very abruptly, which makes this an appropriate place to finish this article.

Anatomy of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile – 4 – Vision 1-1: Beginnings of Gale part 1 – The Lesson

The Anatomy of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile series was originally posted on the Return of Talking Time message board and is inspired by the Anatomy of Games series by Jeremy Parish. If you enjoy this series, please check out Jeremy’s website for more analyses of your favorite games or consider purchasing the book compilations for sale at Blurb.com.

There are two distinct parts of Vision 1-1; the ‘lesson’ and the ‘test’. The lesson is, essentially, a tutorial without being a tutorial. There’s no signposts to be read, Huepow never once leaves the ring to say “throw an enemy to break far off eggs!”; the designer’s present the player the tools and the pieces and expect you to piece it together in what amounts to a line up of clues and hints one after the other which are meant to teach the full repertoire of Klonoa’s abilities we went over before stopping the player dead in their tracks to see if they’ve picked up on what they learned. That in mind, the function of the second part, the ‘test’, should be self-explanatory.

The first tool presented to the player upon taking off from the runway are old hat to platformer fans; The gems. Much like Mario’s coins, are the prerequisite collectible breadcrumbs which 1. give the player an extra life for collecting 100 (natch) and 2. help direct the player and/or their eyes toward critical and alternative paths. Gems often appear in weird, out of the way places but for now the game is assuming you haven’t played a platformer before and just leaves them lying on the ground and right into the first, and most common, enemy type; the Moo.

Moos are a red, masked creature that’s somewhere between a rabbit and Super Mario Bros. 2’s shyguy. The Moo doesn’t have a discernable attack pattern; most of them simply walk forward and back (although some act differently in special circumstances). Before turning, Moos will stop and cautiously look around, making it easy enough to get close and test out the wind bullet for the first time.

By now the player may have noticed Door to Phantomile isn’t a purely profile view; while Klonoa can only move left or right, he is bound by a sort of track or railway which makes full use of the 3D environment, curving and bending along and around the environment (In Breezegail, the track is outlined as a yellow, stony pathway). This leads to some clever and complex level design, but the player is eased into the style by using a slightly curved path. This also has the added benefit of teaching how other objects interact with the pathway; while the Moo is active, he can only move along the curve path. However, when he is thrown (the most likely outcome on a first time playthrough as the player will want to see what they can do with the enemy immediately upon grabbing it) he goes straight and away off camera, highlighting that thrown enemies do not operate on the same rules as active characters.

The player has other options than throwing the enemy, as we know now, but the game provides a hint by introducing a new item; the big gem, worth a whopping 5 gems, placed conspicuously on top of a sign post that reaches just a hair outside of Klonoa’s normal jump length. The signpost appears when the player is within distance of the first Moo’s stopping point, but it might not be immediately obvious that they can’t reach the gem before throwing the enemy into the wild, blue yonder. The game was gracious enough to put a second Moo just behind the signpost, presumably after the player realizes they don’t have the means to reach the gem. It invites experimentation, but it’s not a guarantee that the player will figure it out. In time, the double jump will be required however, and at the very least the gem on the signpost becomes a reward during subsequent playthroughs.

The first level continues it’s parade of clues with the first Nagapoko egg, Door to Phantomile’s take on item containers, teasing the player within the background of the stage, unreachable from the 2D horizontal plane they’re restricted to. In case the player hasn’t clued in to being able toward or away from the background, they’re given a second chance when attempting to interact with the egg. The game places faith in the player to connect the dots and learn that an enemy can be tossed into the background by facing it in the same manner as throwing them forward.

Directly after that area is a bridge which contains Klonoa’s second enemy type: a flying, green hershey kissed shaped monster called Teton. Tetons move up and down vertically but otherwise remain stationary. Next to this Tetron nearly perpendicular to his flight path is a vertically aligned cluster of gems. The game plays with the player’s expectations slightly by suggesting a different solution from the actual outcome – to get all the gems via double jump. However, what actually happens is when grabbing the Tetron (who is out of the way of the player’s path and could easily be avoided), Klonoa begins to hover as the Tetron pulls him up for a short distance, higher than a normal double jump. The player still has control, and can move the Tetron left and right. This teaches another valuable lesson; some enemies have additional properties beyond simply being grabbed. Additionally, players can double jump at the top of the enemy’s flight arc for maximum height, but as of right now there’s no advantage to doing so except bragging rights.

At the end of the bridge lies a small purple mouse creature awaits to try and ambush you, as well as the first major collectible item, a token that resembles Breezegale’s logo sitting in a bubble. The player can use the mouse to pop open the bubble, or they can use the ring projectile to pop it open (this stands in opposition to eggs, which can only be broken with tossed enemies). These tokens represent Klonoa’s optional collectathon mission; each token contains a citizen of the are which Klonoa is currently at, in this case denizens of Breezegail. There are six to each stage, normally hidden in an out of the way nook. The first one is graciously given to the player, so they can recognize what they look like moving forward.

The path forward then curves around a mountain with an effigy of some kind just outside the view of the camera and eventually ends with a wall that has a visible path above it; the gate to the second part of the level, the test. I say gate because it, like the first big gem from the beginning of the level, is just a hair too high for the player to reach with their regular jump. There’s even a cluster of gems here that help the player visualize the exact height of Klonoa’s jump and highlighting just how futile reaching the path is. It’s here where the player is now forced to learn Klonoa’s double jump ability if they’ve any hope of pushing forward. Thankfully the purple mouse enemy from earlier dashes out from above the platformer which can be used as leverage to reach the next part of the stage. To the left of the new path is a suspended platform containing the first health pick up – a small heart, which restores a half a heart (in the PSX version, Klonoa begins with 3 whole hearts). Considering the lack of hazards and the simplicity of current enemy patterns, the likelihood of the player losing more than this is pretty slim, meaning the player should be fully refreshed at this point. Which is good, as the training wheels fully come off at this point.

Next: Beginnings of Gale Part 2 – The Test

 

Anatomy of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile – 3 – Arsenal of a Dream Warrior

The Anatomy of Klonoa: Door to Phantomile series was originally posted on the Return of Talking Time message board and is inspired by the Anatomy of Games series by Jeremy Parish. If you enjoy this series, please check out Jeremy’s website for more analyses of your favorite games or consider purchasing the book compilations for sale at Blurb.com.

There’s a long standing platformer tradition, dating back as far as the original Super Mario Bros., to start off the first level with an area I like to call ‘the runway’. The runway is a short distance that’s free of hazards and enemies, giving the player a safe space to test out the buttons on the controller and become accustom to the game’s controls. Door to Phantomile, being a good platformer, kindly gives the player a few paces beyond the starting point of Klonoa’s porch before they run into the level’s first enemy, so this area is the perfect place for the player to collect their bearings.

At first glance, Klonoa doesn’t seem much different from his platforming predecessors; his walking speed has a breezy pace without any sense of inertia or acceleration, and his jump height and distance are both respectful. Beyond the basics, Klonoa is able to kick and flutter by holding the jump button after he’s ascended, similar to Yoshi’s flutter kick. Presumably for offense, Klonoa can use Huepow’s ring to shoot a small projectile, dubbed ‘wind bullet’, that travels a short distance in front of him before retracting back to the ring. Lastly, Klonoa can only run at one speed and cannot duck or look up. He can look toward the camera into the foreground and out into the background, however.

None of these abilities seem very useful from the outset; The wind bullet’s very short range – a little less than a Klonoa length away – feels stunted next to most video game projectiles and the flutter kick doesn’t add any height to Klonoa’s jump. He begins to descend a tiny bit before fluttering very slowly back to the top of the original jump arc. While it does give him a bit more distance it’s relatively minor, no more than a couple pixels compared to his regular jump. Most platformer abilities are geared toward offense or mobility, yet Klonoa’s arsenal initially appears to lack in both of these areas.

The whole story shortly unravels when Klonoa faces his first foe a few feet away from his house. The wind bullet is much less a bullet and more a vacuum, one that pulls most enemies toward Klonoa, allowing him to grab them and hold them above his head. From here, Klonoa has two options: he can either throw the enemy away in one of four directions (left, right, toward or away from the background), or he can do a double jump by pressing jump a second time, causing him to put the held enemy underneath his feet and bouncing off of them like a springboard. In addition to his double jump, he’s also able to use his flutter kick at the top arc of the double jump as well.

If it feels like the extra steps toward making fruitful actions give Door to Phantomile a slightly slower pace than many of its contemporaries, it’s entirely deliberate. Door to Phantomile is a fusion between the standard platformer that Super Mario Bros. pioneered and most are used to, and puzzle platformers like Solomon’s Key and Braid. Both types of games present the player with an obstacle course to overcome, but they’re generally built on different foundations; most platformers center around testing the player’s dexterity with action-oriented obstacles and abilities while puzzle platformers focus more on critical thinking by using obtuse level layouts and abilities that focus around augmenting the environment or NPCs to overcome obstacles or collect macguffins.

Despite these separate dynamics, fusions of the two subgenres do happen and usually involving some variation of acrobatics to be performed once the player has figured out what to do with the pieces and abilities presented to them. The most classic example, and the game that Door to Phantomile takes a lot of inspiration from, is Doki Doki Panic {or Super Mario Bros. 2for us Western-based folk), which also allowed enemies to be picked up and tossed, as well as being stacked on top of each other. It asked the player to think about how to use their abilities and surroundings together in order to fight back against opposition or find ways around seemingly impassable obstacles. Door to Phantomile asks the same question by using a combination of clever level design, varied enemy types, and the player’s own dexterity to craft interesting challenges in the same way as its spiritual predecessor.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Klonoa’s seemingly small moveset gives way to a lot of variety and versatility – so much so that one of the handheld entries in the series would use the same abilities in a different context to become a full-on puzzle platformer – but right now, a couple paces away from Klonoa’s home, the player’s may be left feeling woefully underpowered. It’s going to take a good push in the right direction and some experimentation to learn the true potential of Klonoa’s abilities.

Next: Beginnings of Gale