The middle of June has been the highlight of the gaming calendar since the 1990s. It’s that magical few weeks when developers and publishers pull back the curtain on their biggest upcoming projects, finally giving fans a look at a bold new vision or a long-awaited sequel. The major summer showcases from Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo tend to prioritize the next big thing, but one of my favorite games from Summer Game Fest Play Days was a charming duo of platformers first released in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s.
Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series brings together remastered versions of 1997’s Klonoa: Door to Phantomile and 2001’s Klonoa 2: Lunatea's Veil, first released for PlayStation and PS2 respectively. (This was back in the days when Namco was still a swinging single studio — the merger with Bandai wasn’t official until 2006.) I’d never played these games when I was younger — I basically played whatever my older brothers had around, and the Klonoa series was probably a bit too cute and kid-friendly for their cool ‘90s teen taste.
There’s something about this particular era of 2.5D platformers that is uniquely familiar and comforting, and Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series has those qualities in spades. Imagine if Chex Mix and Rice Krispies Treats were video games — it’s not the fanciest thing you’ve ever eaten, but something about it keeps you reaching for it anyway.
This is the sort of game that pretty much anyone can pick up and play instantaneously. You can jump, bop enemies, and snag items. Klonoa’s core mechanics are rather Kirby-esque — you’ll grab enemies and use them to traverse each level — some will help you jump higher, others will allow you to hover or float, or you can fling a captured enemy at another baddie, clearing a safer path for you to forge ahead.
In certain areas, you’ll interact with the background to explore new areas, solve a puzzle, or get your paws on some precious items. The environments and enemies are vibrant and cheerful, and the game steadily builds upon its core dynamics by steadily adding new abilities and ways to interact with the environment at a pace that’s lively yet easy to digest.
A handful of thoughtful quality of life enhancements makes Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series more approachable than other platformer ports from its era. The first you’ll notice is the ability to play cutscenes at 5x speed in addition to skipping them outright. (Why isn’t this more common?) The remasters also include customizable difficulty settings which allow you to choose from one of three all-encompassing levels of challenge, adjust Klonoa’s overall health and the damage enemies do, and tweak your total number of lives.
If you’re looking for a mellow platformer experience to wile away the hot days ahead, Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series is a charming throwback to simpler times, with more complexity than meets the eye. Thus underappreciated retro gem is a sweet summer treat worth keeping an eye on.
Klonoa Phantasy Reverie Series comes to Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and Steam on July 8, 2022.