Klaus PC Review
At its core, Klaus is a standard 2D platformer. And whilst it doesn’t really invent any new mechanics, it does do a great job of mashing together a bunch of classics to keep things interesting as the player makes their way through the different worlds (or floors of a building). There’s gliding, block-breaking, double-jumping, saw blades, lasers, and a large dollop of teamwork required between the two characters the player controls – all the bells and whistles. However, even though the game is constantly throwing in new obstacles, I feel that it never really challenges the player or even slightly puts them out of their comfort zone (perhaps besides the incredibly awkward floaty jumping that allows for almost no air control). It also never throws enough of the established mechanics together that it becomes even slightly complex. The game is straightforward, but there’s no doubt these decisions were made specifically to support the heavy narrative that is Klaus’ s selling point.
Yet, although the narrative is certainly the backbone of the whole experience, with text appearing all over the walls as the player progresses, Klaus doesn’t seem to know what story it wants to tell. Whilst it tries maybe a little too hard on the whole ‘I don’t have to be controlled by the player, I have my own free will’ thing, the story is actually about a person with amnesia who wakes up in what seems to be some sort of evil corporation’s factory. These two tales don’t ever connect. The player being some kind of God in this world, being able to move the characters and manipulate platforms and doors doesn’t ever get explained or wrapped up in anyway. It just ends. I’m really not sure why it was included at all to be honest because the other story, about slowly discovering the backstory of the character is genuinely interesting, if a little obvious.
I will say though, that it was a very weird decision to hide so much of this discovery behind bonus level (albeit incredibly easy to find ones). Each floor has six secret areas that must all be found and completed to unlock some more memories. They are absolutely necessary to understand or even enjoy the story and worst of all is that they seemed to be in chronological order, so missing one is likely to be pretty disappointing as there’s not way to go back until the end of the game. Fortunately I was pretty diligent about finding them and managed to grab them all on the first pass, which was actually motivated not just by the story but by the fact that each of these special stages is a unique little slice of gameplay that are all different from one another. One of them has the player control four characters at once all with different obstacles, for example, and another is about traversing a stage in the dark, and another with a giant version of a level. These little chunks were definitely my favourite parts of Klaus.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the rest of the platforming – I love platformers. I would have preferred if it had cranked up the difficulty somewhat, as mentioned, but Klaus is still a lot of fun. Controlling the two characters in their own unique way, the protagonist literally disobeying the commands from the player at one point, and many other interesting moments kept me engaged to the end. However, I do feel that the writing, which was really the meat of the experience, was a little lax. It’s not something we haven’t seen before and it by no means stands out. From the opening moments and discovery of the second character, I’m sure just about everyone who plays Klaus could guess the outcome, or at least get close. It thinks it’s a little smarter than it is but never does anything to push itself. It screams that we need to break free from corporate shackles, that we are robots sitting at our desks working our lives away but it too never quite reaches the velocity to escape into the realm of ‘great’, of something that will really make you think or dig into yourself a little.
Reading back over this I feel I’ve been a little too harsh on Klaus, it is an entertaining game; it’s a good game. The problem is that there are so many 2D platformers out there these days, so many good ones, and so many phenomenal ones. I mean, just a month ago my game of the year 2018 was Celeste – a 2D platformer that will stay with me forever because of both the mechanics and the story and especially of the way they build a narrative together. Klaus instead feels more like the game was built simply as a convenient way to tell the story, or the story was built to make sense of the game – they don’t seem to really connect or work together to create something more meaningful than the sum of their parts.