Klaus is the story of a man who wakes up in the basement of an office building with ‘-KLAUS-’ tattooed on his arm. Navigating the initial red soaked levels, he realises he’s in the midst of an existential crisis. Who is he? How did he get here? Who is moving him through the levels? Before too long, he’s joined up with a beefcake character called K1. Together, they manage to find their way through the myriad of platformer levels while trying to figure out what exactly is happening to them.
Klaus is a game with unfortunate timing. Released around the same time Unravel and Firewatch it slipped by, unnoticed by many. Launching initially on the Playstation 4, with a PC release scheduled for later in the year, Klaus is the first game by indie developer La Cosa Entertainment. Now, if you’ve read previous reviews that I’ve written, it’s no secret that platformers are my genre of choice. Part of what made me pick up Klaus was the notion that it would combine great platforming with an interesting story. It sounded like it was trying to replicate what Thomas Was Alone attempted to deliver, but for me, it failed. Fortunately enough, Klaus succeeds on multiple other levels.
First of all – the platforming itself is (mostly) great. Klaus is a small man controlled with the usual platforming tropes – tap X twice to double jump, hold L2 to run. One of the elements that makes or breaks a platformer is whether the characters carry weight when they jump and don’t feel floaty. Here, the jumping is just right and feels as accurate as you’d expect it to be. When K1 is introduced, his platforming feels completely different and unique compared to Klaus. He can’t double jump for example, instead relying on an uppercut to help him reach higher places. Think Kiddy Kong in Donkey Kong Country 3 and you’re almost there.
Even though the jumping is fine, there were some small moments that caused concern – where the path to progress required a level of precision the game wasn’t entirely able to provide. For example, there were some sections where you would need to jump through a gap where spikes lined the roof and floor. If you happened to tap the jump button a little too long you would hit the roof, killing yourself. This wasn’t a major problem as it didn’t happen that often, but it is worthwhile noting as a minor frustration.
Often you’ll have to navigate both Klaus and K1 at the same time, an idea that sounds like it could become cumbersome, but is in fact intuitively implemented and never becomes a bother. Simple controls make for great ease of play, with both characters being able to be moved at the same time when L1 and R1 are held. Teamwork between Klaus, K1 and the player is key. For example; K1 is able to throw Klaus to a higher points where something such as a terminal that requires hacking may be. Once Klaus hacks the terminal, it may allow for another platform to rise so K1 can reach the same level as Klaus. Again, it’s a familiar platforming trope, but it’s implemented wonderfully here.
Even though the platforming mechanics are similar to many other platformers on the market, it’s the level design that helps set Klaus apart from the pack. Each set of levels has a natural progression with the plot, helping add variety to the gameplay and ensuring that it always remains engaging. To get a further understanding of Klaus’ history, there are collectible memories peppered around some of the levels. Each memory throws Klaus into an even more varied level. It’s here that developers La Cosa Entertainment let their creativity really go wild.
Each memory has something to say that actually helps further the plot and build up Klaus as an interesting, realistic character. For example, an early puzzle sees you only being able to move Klaus left, making for an interesting puzzle design. Latter ones throw multiple versions of Klaus at you which you simultaneously control while trying to navigate to the end of the level. Again, the core game would have been fine enough as it is, but these memory sections add another great layer, elevating it up just a notch.
Where Thomas Was Alone previously tried to implement a narrative to provide relevance for character actionsI felt there was a dissonance between the two. Take away the voice over, and the game wouldn’t work well enough on its platforming alone. Klaus manages to blend story and gameplay seamlessly, with Klaus often engaging in a discussion directly with the player. He is aware that he’s being controlled by someone, with dialogue from Klaus directed at the player appearing on the environment. If the self-aware nature sounds a little on the nose, then rest assured that like the aforementioned colour scheme, it works in service of the plot, rather than as a gimmicky element to make the game a little more entertaining and unique.
Next up is the art design for Klaus. The varying shades of red, blue, green and purple throughout the themed levels are aesthetically pleasing. One of the more impressive elements is that often the colours work in service of the plot – the red giving a feeling of communist oppression, which then blends into the hum-drum mundane aspects of office work life in the latter purple coloured levels. Klaus and K1’s character designs appear to be a little sketchy in design, but this hand drawn aspect compliments the often monochrome coloured levels, allowing the two characters to stand out against the background.
As Klaus has launched first of all on the Playstation 4, it takes the unique place of being one of the few games to have notably implemented the touch pad and speaker on the dual shock controller. At certain points, you will need to open up barriers for Klaus to progress – to do this you move your finger on the touch pad like you would a mouse to activate the barrier. Some of the more difficult levels have the screen scrolling along, making manoeuvring both Klaus and triggering barriers at the same time a worthy challenge.
Further building the relationship between Klaus and the player is the use of the speaker on the controller. At times, Klaus will make an audible noise that emanates from the controller. He’ll do this when a puzzle is solved, or something dangerous has occurred. It’s never more than a simple ‘oh’ or an ‘ah’, but these frequent noises are a welcome character building tool, especially when they come from the speaker on the controller. There’s something more immediate when the noise comes from your hands, rather than you TV screen. It’s these two reasons that I would possibly suggest going for the Playstation 4 version of the game over the PC version when that is released. These are hardly revolutionary inclusions, but again, they work in service of telling the plot and building the relationship between Klaus and the player.
Klaus is not a revolutionary game that’s going to change the face of platforming, but it is a great example of how a specific genre of gaming game be represented in a fresh manner. As a platformer alone, it excels at providing a rewarding experience for fans of the genre. As a story driven game, it’s interesting and involving enough to make you want to return to its plot to see how it will progress. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Klaus and relished my role in telling the tale of the lost and confused man in a basement.