There are some games that bring up massive questions about what their intentions are and why they were even made. There are some games that come out of the blue with a nonchalant wave as if it’s perfectly acceptable to consider it canon. There are some games that really can’t be explained because they bring up more questions than answers.
However, I cannot let this go any longer. It just needs to be asked. I mean… think about this rationally. This game plops into your lap and there are literally no words that come from your mouth. You sit there, a stony silence filling the room until eventually you can keep yourself silent no more. You have to know… YOU HAVE TO ASK.
WHAT. THE. FUCK. IS. KLONOA?
Seriously, is he a rabbit? A cat rabbit? A rabbit cat? WHAT EVEN IS THIS THING? It’s got long ears like a rabbit but it could be a cat. WE JUST DON’T KNOW. It is added to the long list of things that we’ll clearly never find the answers to like was the umpire serious when he was talking to John McEnroe or are there really people who are indifferent to Marmite. We’ll just never know.
WE WILL NEVER KNOW.
So Klonoa’s a… thing… and he appeared in some games. Namco clearly had some designs for him but the games themselves were only moderately successful, which is a real shame because to be fair to the games, they are exceptional. The problem is that perhaps throwing in a cutesy-looking mascot character onto a gaming system that wasn’t primarily designed for younger gamers was… not the best idea. I mean, despite Crash Bandicoot being colourful and quite cartoony, there was something less childish about him and he exhibited some more adult mannerisms… such as the beating of his own crotch. That time of thing. Klonoa didn’t do that. He was the uber-optimistic mascot with the child-like voice and spirit that had some games that were charming and whatnot. He got lost in the shuffle of 3D platformers by not being 3D. He dared to be 2.5D (that hybrid thing where the locations are 3D rendered but everything it still ‘on a 2D plane’ as such. Basically, it’s a nonsense term that categorised this game into its downfall. Pandemonium was basically the same kind of game and I WILL GET TO THAT GAME SOON ENOUGH but people didn’t seem to want 2.5D platformers when they could have Crash Bandicoot. People wanted Super Mario 64 on the PS1. Yeah. They tried on several occasions. They did get it with many games but everyone suddenly complained that they were Mario clones.
We’re getting into silly territory here.
Look, you can’t ask for Mario clones and then complain that they’re too much like Mario. That’s just bloody silly. And anyway, you have plenty of alternatives and if you want to play a Mario clone… play Mario, maybe? Oh you don’t have an N64 THEN SHUT THE FUCK UP AND GET PLAYING THE FUCKING MARIO CLONES.
So beach volleyball. That’s an Olympic sport now.
So after a long day of having to listen to people say “YOU’RE NOT MARIO” and actually having really good games made for him, Klonoa and his friends (and enemies too) decide to get together for a bit of beach volleyball fun.That is essentially how they shoehorn in this game into the franchise. Because why not? They could have gone the safe route and done a more popular sport like football or tennis or perhaps even… I dunno… darts? But they went with beach volleyball. You can’t accuse Namco or trying to do things easily. And hey, beach volleyball is a fairly simple game in terms of rules so they’re definitely sticking to the right demographic.
Bearing in mind this game came out in 2002 and I was just starting university that year.
Yup. That’s the demographic.
(It’s not. I just like the Klonoa games.)
So here’s the set-up: pick two characters and off you go. That is pretty much it. If you’re not familiar with the rules of beach volleyball, the tutorial is nifty enough to get you going. For the uninitiated, serve the ball into court, three alternate touches and the ball must return to the other side in that time. Ball bounces, point over. That’s covers it.
And don’t forget the special moves.
OH COME ON. YOU DIDN’T EXPECT A VIDEO GAME TO NOT INCLUDE SPECIAL MOVES, DID YOU? It’s not an official beach volleyball game so unless it’s going to be super serious simulation time, expect there to be bloody special moves everywhere.
Honestly, you really don’t need there to be a story in a sports game. This one does have one in that the tournament is being set up by the antagonist Guntz and his sorta-henchman Garlen but mostly as a cover-up for Nahatomb, a MASSIVE pink/purple blob of unknown… species or gender or… anything… who is the final boss alongside Super Garlen (the same character… just super this time. I know…) and eventually you get the prize money. Yep. It’s that deep.
Now my only major concern with this game is actually the selection of characters. I say this because for the uninitiated, you’d be hard-pressed to recognise any of them. The character roster in these games isn’t exactly MASSIVE and there aren’t a huge amount to pluck from its universe. It’s no detriment to the series but that there are a lot of unrecognisable characters from the Gameboy Advance games isn’t exactly a great selling point. There are 8 initial characters to play as. Klonoa, Lolo and Popka are more recognisable if you’ve played Klonoa 2. Joka from the first game is there as are Tat and Leorina from Klonoa 2 as well. They obviously didn’t have enough characters to play with so they went with Heart Moo… THE KING OF ALL MOOS. He’s the red ball-like enemy from both games.
HE’S THE KING OF THESE. THESE THINGS ARE DOTTED THROUGHOUT THE PLATFORMERS’ ENTIRE EXISTENCE AND YOU GIVE US THE KING OF THESE? Ugh. I say nothing.
And topping this off, you have Chipple, a boxing kangaroo from the Gameboy Advance games. Look, he’s a good character but this just serves as our second reminder that the universe of Klonoa wasn’t big enough to do spin-off games like this JUST YET. He needed to be more established. I mean… I say all of this but Sonic went ahead and did Sonic the Fighters with just 4 proper character from the universe. They managed to fill it up out with crappy extras like Fang and Bean and Dumbass and Whoknowswho so I suppose Klonoa managed better than they did.
Not that that’s hard OH HO HO SONIC CHARACTER REFERENCE.
Either way, that downside aside, the rest of the game is very much an example of how to do a simple sports game very right.
First of all, the controls are exceptionally tight. You know exactly what’s going to happen when you do it and the characters move around exactly as you want them to. There’s no floating about when running, they stop when you stop; it’s an arcade-style game in that respect. There’s little room for frustration unless you’ve made a wrong move and your own skill let’s you down.
And that’s the beauty of this game. It’s all on you if you fuck it up.
And maybe your computer controlled partner. BUT THERE’S A WAY AROUND THAT! You can play as BOTH characters! Which is… weird… but you can do that. If you want to. I mean… I won’t stop you. It’s slightly harder because your eyes will be on one character and not the one you want so it can be REALLY hard. But hey. Go for it.
Now. You see those lit up squares in the corner of the screen? Those are important. Those are game-changingly important. So let’s say you hit the ball square into the corner of the court and it scores a point. That same square lights up on your grid. If you manage to get a line of 2, it’ll tell you it’s worth 2 points. As you accrue more lines, the value increases until the whole grid is lit up. That’s worth 9 points. At any time during the match, if you play your special attack and the ball lands in, you earn that many points for the score. As such, if you have your whole grid lit up at you’re behind in the match, it can be the difference between winning and losing. It adds a really simple but lucrative element of tactics to the match. You want t try and score as many points in different parts of the court as possible so that you HAVE this option. In multiplayer matches, it’s even better because your opponents will be VERY aware of where you want to hit the ball and will have to work it whether you mob that area or not in case you flick the ball everywhere else with easy smashes. It’s BRUTAL but it’s bloody fantastic.
Oh and it does this when you set it off. Everything goes a bit slo-mo (which is monumentally painful if you hit the button too early and you end up slowly floating down the screen without hitting the ball at all in what would be the biggest fail ever) and the screen goes this weird, trippy blue that is a nice way of signalling to the opponents that shit is going down shortly. If you’re good enough to get the ball back then your opponents have just depleted their gauge and left themselves pretty wide open. Go forth and smash the ball into their faces because YOU KNOW YOU SHOULD.
Bizarrely, there were quite a few beach volleyball games on the PS1 and a lot of those were trying to be more of a simulation yet be edgy at the same time. They all sucked. They either couldn’t get the controls right, they were trying WAY too hard or they basically managed to fuck the whole thing up completely. If you’ve ever come across one such game (COUGH COUGH V-BALL COUGH COUGH) then you’ll have the displeasure of knowing what bad sports games are like.
This is how to do it.
It’s dressed up with cartoonish overtones. It’s decidedly cutesy. It’s got a cast list that are a bit iffy.
But it’s fucking brilliant. Each character has been tuned properly and no one is so overpowered that it would be cheating. Some characters are powerful, some are speedy, some are much more technical. It works. Namco knew what they were doing. They were trying to create a fun sports game that kept things simple without overloading the player with over the top controls. AND IT’S FUCKING GLORIOUS.
Ignore the fact that there’s a rabbit-cat/cabbit/KLONOA on the front cover and just enjoy it for what it is. And while you’re at it get a multitap and play it with friends.
And then make us a cup of tea, will you? I’m parched.
Sorry. Please can I have a cup of tea?