They're making a comeback in recent years thanks to the likes of Crypt of the Necrodancer, Audiosurf 2, and even Super Hexagon, and I like it. What started with the breakout hit Parappa the Rapper, leading to arcade games like Beatmania and Dance Dance Revolution, and culminating in the likes of Rock Band and Guitar Hero, seemed to come to a standstill or at least a stalemate in regards to innovation. Thankfully, many new developers are seeing the potential in the genre and are helping it branch out into new amalgamations thereof, just like Tinimations is doing with their new release, Klang.
Klang’s Steam page states it’s “an innovative take on traditional rhythm games that pushes the genre beyond pressing buttons to tempo into a world of fast-paced exploration, platforming, and combat.”
That all sounds like fun, but what exactly does that mean, and, more importantly, how well does it play?
Well, what that means is Klang is a rhythm game infused with platforming elements, namely running and jumping. Players are in control of the titular Klang, who runs around with two swords to deflect enemy attacks back at them in time to the beat or melody, depending on the track. The more attacks you connect in a row, the higher your combo meter gets, allowing you to dish out more damage for quicker completion times. You can use a keyboard or a controller, and in either case, Klang’s movement is controlled by the left side (WASD or a joystick) while his sword swings are controlled with the right (arrow keys, buttons, or a joystick). I preferred the exactness of a keyboard over the comfort of a controller, as quicker patterns were easier to respond to accurately with arrow keys over the joystick or buttons, especially when faced with diagonal attacks. Attacks are quick and responsive, and so is movement, but the real challenge comes from balancing both actions at the same time, e.g. running and jumping over terrain while deflecting attacks to the rhythm.
It’s an interesting concept and one that takes advantage of unsuspecting players, as multitasking different actions can be a difficult ability to master.
Despite the unorthodox controls, the first thing one notices while playing Klang is the art style. The palette seems to favor bold and contrasting colors, making details more pronounced. Primarily dark blues and oranges, the world of Klang almost looks like a photo negative, creating a bit of a jarring aesthetic that makes a distinct visual impact on the player. An overworld map is present to differentiate stages, which are further divided into levels, à la Super Mario Bros 3, helping keep track of player progress to the final boss. Levels, while visually similar, are clearly defined by their main gameplay mechanic, helping keep everything varied and fresh. Each stage has its own secret room hidden within a particular level with a unique trial, typically focusing on rhythm challenges, that unlock more of the game’s soundtrack to listen to.
As this is a rhythm game, music is obviously an important aspect of Klang. Composed by bLiNd, Klang’s soundtrack is backed by an EDM track listing that runs the gamut of its genre. Constant drum beats pounding at a quick tempo over synth swells and pulses, mixed with dub step inspired distortions accenting ear piercing techno leads all come together to make an enjoyable playlist of levels. While most songs are deceptively contagious and easy to bob your head to, some sound more akin to simple background ambiance of slow and steady swells of volume without a clear beat. Some beats did feel a little wonky to hit on time, as they seemed to play a little earlier than the bass drum, almost staggered to the rhythm, but overall the gameplay blended well with the music, giving off a rave-like vibe.
In regards to story, Klang is stated to be an “elite rave warrior on a quest to free himself from the shackles of Soundlord Sonus.” During my playthrough I did see some well-animated cut scenes, but, because there is no talking or narration, I had no idea what was going on exactly. But, it’s a rhythm game, so I don’t mind.
What I did mind was the lack of explanation for some things, such as the control button. Most new tricks are taught by a brief section of a level being devoted to that one concept, but the control button is shown on a black screen with pulsing circles scattered around. Once pressed, a dotted circle appears around the player, but I have no idea what it does, or if it’s even supposed to do anything at all. While we’re on the topic of criticisms, jumping in Klang feels oddly floaty, as there is no real sensitivity to the move. Once pressed, your character jumps as high as he can, and the distance is controlled by moving in one direction or another. This comes into conflict with the platforming aspects of Klang in multiple areas. Sometimes you need to jump a little less than others, but instead of letting go of jump sooner you’re forced to fumble with character direction, unnecessarily adding to the original difficulty of multitasking.
And this is really the hard part of playing Klang. It means to be a platformer/rhythm hybrid, and it does both relatively well, but not well enough to be consistently enjoyable. As a rhythm game, Klang is great: The music is catchy, the timing challenge is there and many of the visual effects add to the satisfaction of racking up a high combo. As a platformer, though, Klang is just ok: Movement is responsive but jumps are sometimes odd and hard to fine tune, and speed is an issue as you’re barely fast enough in some areas and too fast in others. Put those two elements together and you have a title that feels lopsided, heavily favoring its rhythm aspects. Juggling platforming and beat matching is an entertaining and difficult experience, but many of the challenge rooms showed that the rhythm aspects were ultimately much more fun than any of the platforming sections could be. I feel this proved to be true due to a major flaw in multitasking:
You can’t properly focus two things at once.
Challenge rooms, as mentioned before, primarily focus on one aspect at a time, either platforming or beat matching. These rooms provided the greatest challenge and reward when playing through, as each skill is tested at a much higher level. One room has the player chasing orbs as they appear, running and jumping around a small area with 3 platforms: it was fun. Another room focuses only on the rhythm genre and allows the player to stay in one place while defending against a complex beat: it was even more fun. Unfortunately, outside of these rooms, you’re forced to do both, so the game dumbs them both down for you. Quick and nimble platforming is changed to easier sections to maneuver through, quick beat patterns are changed to slower, steady drum kicks, or even slower random inputs. Slower sections sometimes feel disjointed from the rest of the title, with no obvious beat to go by, button presses are timed visually, rather than audibly. After playing through Klang, I’m left with a keen desire to play a standard rhythm game, something focused.
Jack of all trades, master of none is a perfect summation of Klang. The combination of rhythm and platforming is an interesting concept that may have a future, but currently is just not quite there yet. Unique visuals and an active soundtrack help distinguish Klang from other titles, but generally ok platforming mixed with well done rhythm gaming create an awkward hodgepodge of a title that underperforms as a whole.