Klaus leaves both my mind racing and my mouth with an unusual taste. Bear with me: Klaus is a solid game, being both instantly recognizable and uniquely mysterious at the same time. The team at La Cosa Entertainment walk the wire between appealing to the nostalgic and challenging preconceptions at every moment. The gameplay is solid, the sound design is consistently effective, and the atmosphere as a whole is artistically unified. But there’s something more to this game, something psychological and fundamental, that demands attention.
The game is, at its core, a 2D puzzle platformer. Normally in my reviews, this is the part where I say “You, the player, take on the role of Klaus, the protagonist who…” but that isn’t necessarily the case here. You do, in fact, control Klaus, but you are not Klaus. Instead, you are yourself, the aptly named “Player.” Using your controller, you guide Klaus from the bottom of a corporate tower to the top, all the while attempting to learn the story behind this character, who has lost his memory. As you move him through the levels, he speaks to you through sentences displayed across the stage.
There is a second playable character, named K1. Though he plays the antagonist of the first level, he quickly becomes an ally in your quest to climb the tower and discover the truth. Klaus is a small and fast character, while K1 is a much larger and slower (but stronger) man. Both characters have strengths and weaknesses that come into play as you move them together through the various levels. K1 speaks to you as well, but in a much more simplified vocabulary. “K1 likes sushi but we have to save Klaus” is arguably one of my favorite quotes from the entire game.
The gameplay is derived of all of the standards: jumping over spikes, climbing up ladders, activating switches (Klaus is a hacker and K1 just punches things), and the like. Regular variables and changes are added to levels as you move up the tower, but none of them add much substance to the gameplay. The last few levels are extremely thrilling and engaging thanks to a driving storyline and some extraordinarily creative elements, but this leaves the middle dragging without momentum for quite some time. Gamers who push through the lull in the middle will be treated to a strong, rewarding few final levels.
The highlights within the gameplay are the consistently imaginative “secret” levels, indicated by glowing balls of lights throughout the tower. These short mini-levels unlock Klaus’ memories and the interesting backstory to the events of the game. The levels all begin with a one-word title, such as Grow or Expectations, and they turn gameplay on its head, utilizing assets from the game in unique and often terrifying ways. One particularly memorable level had me leading Klaus over a sea of other silhouette Klaus’ to try and reach the end.
The game also pushes the limits of storytelling and the player. The PS4’s touchpad is heavily utilized to great effect. A swipe across the touch pad can activate a platform, movable by the right analog stick. Many puzzles, while never too difficult, did require some practice and dexterity. Another memorable level was when Klaus, wary of your intentions, decides that he doesn’t want to be controlled by you and begins to travel through the levels on his own. It is up to you to protect him by using the touchpad and controller to move the level’s environment around him and keep him from death.
If you can’t tell by now, Klaus is quite a character. In fact, it’s Klaus’ character and self-exploration through words spoken to you that drive this game. Klaus is a thoughtful and inquisitive soul, and this permeates every aspect of this project. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience to read along as his character grows and develops, particularly in the second half of the game as the stakes rise. But having such a deep and articulate protagonist brings about a different problem in Klaus:
Klaus can be kind of a dick.
He begins the game happy to have a friend in you, the player. But, quite quickly, Klaus’ constant whining and complaining begins to grate. He thinks K1 is awful, then thinks K1 is great. He thinks you’re great, then thinks you’re awful. It’s easy to appreciate that Klaus, in a realistic sense, is going through a lot, but it gets extremely annoying, particularly during the mid-game lull. This builds towards the game’s stellar second half, but it takes a long time to get there.
Klaus is a solid game. The gameplay is nostalgic and innovative, the artistic design is captivating, and the writing is brilliant. Though Klaus can be an annoying little prick and the game drags aggressively in the middle, players who push through those aspects will find a game that challenges norms and has a wonderful story to tell.
A PS4 code for Klaus was provided by La Cosa Entertainment for the purposes of this review.