Gorgeous 2D platformer filled with variety and unique ideas.
Have you ever thought about how much your character relies on you, the player, to do… well, anything? KLAUS has, and by using the idea of player and character agency to great effect, it brings something new to the classic 2D platformer table. Unfortunately, it can misstep with the basics, but there’s enough here to really appreciate.
From the outset, KLAUS takes a narrative focus. Eponymous character, amnesiac office drone Klaus, wakes up in a flush red basement, his name tattooed on his arm. As you take control, learning how to sprint, jump, double jump and manipulate moving platforms, Klaus quickly becomes aware that someone is controlling him; someone else is present in his 2D world.
KLAUS does a lot with its art style; scrolling environments are imbued with bold colours — a different one for each chapter — and Klaus talks to the player with dialogue stylishly splashed on elements in the level itself. That means, as you’re solving environmental puzzles and jumping over obstacles, the story, the mystery and the relationship between you, Klaus and his struggle to remember his past, is seamlessly woven into the experience.
You might think that with a precision platformer it’d be tough to absorb this kind of storytelling. But anyone looking for Super Meat Boy-esque gameplay — frantic and breathtaking platforming at speed — will find something a bit calmer with KLAUS. While I wouldn’t say the gameplay is particularly contemplative, the moment-to-moment action is pretty calm. I found it to be a platformer where things look a lot harder than they are, even on the first attempt.
Levels, while short, give you plenty of time to think and tackle the hazards blocking your way. New chapters do a great job of adding new mechanics, and these are rotated perfectly throughout. It’s a consistent experience all the way, and any one-time gimmicks are used to drive the story forwards.
Eager to do something different, there are moments in KLAUS which throw you for a loop. The fourth wall is broken immediately, and at points, KLAUS reaches through whatever’s left of that wall and grabs you by the scruff of the neck. At times, KLAUS actively rebels against you, forcing you to adjust to what the character wants to do, rather than have you dictating pace and progress. These moments don’t last long but add a lot to both story and enjoyment.
Difficulty is one thing that feels lacking. Even forced scrolling sections that, at first, feel like an injection of pressure, quickly became easy to navigate; I spent most of my time with these well ahead of the screen-edge death zone, waiting for the rest of the level to reveal itself. While you can’t go through KLAUS with your eyes closed, there are only a few areas that really demand extra effort from you. Some simple challenges are still satisfying to complete, and few ever become frustrating, so difficulty falls somewhere between languid and exciting.
Basic movement, too, can feel hit and miss. Klaus often jumps either further or not as far as you were expecting. In the air, he can feel imprecise to control and hard to predict. This would be more of a problem if checkpointing wasn’t so overly generous, but death does not have any consequences. In fact, you can often use it to your advantage. Still, I’d have preferred the controls to be tightened up a bit more, as I found myself in situations where I felt I was doing everything right but getting different results each time.
Counter to this, though, you’ll spend a lot of time in control of two characters at once — Klaus and K1, a dimwitted but charming brute — and these sections are where KLAUS truly hits its groove. Both characters have different skills and abilities, and you’re challenged to put these to use both individually and simultaneously. You’ll slip up and get muddled between who does what, but these sections were my favourite. This is an example of how, as a complete package, KLAUS handles variety with a deft hand. While one chapter felt like it dragged a little by the last level, for the most part, nothing overstays its welcome.
The environments themselves aren’t always the most attractive, despite the pop-art colour palette and cool, bold style. The first two chapters have you in drab basements and ducts, with only colours to differentiate them. Fortunately, things get a lot more visually interesting later on, as KLAUS plays around with level design and mechanics, demonstrated brilliantly in a standout chapter near the end. While this particular section did feel like a toned down version of VVVVVV, it was a welcome addition and — like everything else in KLAUS — added a lot to the story.
Though it’s nothing too ground-breaking, KLAUS’ story is handled well, and it touches on some philosophical questions regarding control, agency and overall life purpose. Personal themes are handled best in extra levels you can encounter by collecting hidden ‘memory pieces’. These abstract levels are usually simple and easy, but atmospheric and a glimpse into Klaus’ psyche at the same time. Find all six memory pieces in a chapter and you unlock a supplemental area which fills in different periods of Klaus’ backstory and life.
These areas — one per chapter — are where KLAUS’ art style shines the brightest, and completing all of these is necessary to see the true ending. If you miss a few, like I did, you can go back to specific sections via ‘arcade mode,’ unlocked after completing the game once. Arcade mode also introduces a time attack mode, and that’s where you’ll find a legitimate platforming challenge.
Whatever your experience with 2D platformers, KLAUS does a great job of introducing you to the genre then subverting your expectations. It’s not the hardest platformer on the market, but it’s one that leaves a great impression — as well as a few new ideas for others to build on.
[Reviewed on PC]