When you’ve been playing video games for a long time, you come to expect certain things. That’s true of any entertainment medium, of course, whether it be films or TV — in fact, it’s so common that sites like TV Tropes make a game out of identifying the familiar patterns found in fictional work. Our expectations being defied is one great way for something to excite us and leave a lasting impression, which is why indie games like Klaus are such a treat. Always one step ahead of you, subverting everything you think you know about the genre, this puzzle-platformer is sure to delight PS4 owners with its quirky, cerebral senses of humor and style.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the gameplay or the story, simply because surprise is the name of the game when it comes to the way Klaus continues to spark your interest. Suffice it to say that it’s got all the trappings of your stereotypical indie platformer, from double jumps to a run button, and introduces a fourth-wall-breaking element that serves up a lot of fun both narratively and in the actual level design. This comes by way of the DualShock 4’s touchpad, which allows the player to manipulate onscreen objects and help the office-worker main character along his way.
He’s not blind to your assistance, either — he regularly communicates with you via text that pops up. Naturally, the game gets a ton of mileage out of having you switch between manipulating objects and moving the character forward: you’ll see segments where you need to use moving platforms as “shields” to block flurries of oncoming projectiles, auto-scrolling levels that force you to think on your feet and act quickly, and — in possibly the game’s coolest moment early-on — a secret level that makes the main character only able to move in one direction (forcing you to manipulate things to get him to safety).
Minor Irritations, Gorgeous Presentation
There are a couple of things to nitpick, both of which unfortunately have to do with the ways the game takes advantage of DualShock 4 features. For one thing, using the touchpad never feels quite right; perhaps it’s more a flaw in the design of the controller itself, but it’s too sensitive and small to give the same sort of tactile impression as a touch screen. You can chalk this up to me being a curmudgeonly gamer who largely prefers traditional controls, but I always groaned any time I had to move my fingers out of their standard resting place to touch the pad. The game also injects a bit of humor and flash by having certain sounds come out of the controller, like the grunts and groans of the character as his actual dialogue appears onscreen (sort of like Zelda characters’ goofy speech noises), but this grows tired pretty quickly and I soon turned the volume on my controller all the way down.
I have no qualms with the rest of Klaus’s presentation, however, which blends some pleasing 2D sprites with absolutely stylish animation that seems to have been inspired by some of the flashier elements found in film. You may think there’s nothing more satisfying than clearing a level or finding a secret, right? Well, how about clearing a level or finding a secret and being rewarded with a high-energy, in-your-face burst of color, light and sound? It’s hard to do this justice in words, so go check out the trailer if you need a few examples. It feels strange to praise things as trivial as the title and transition screens between levels here, but these aspects of the presentation all come together and go a long way toward making the proceedings feel cohesive and — dare I say it? — important in some way, or at the very least, well-worth paying attention to.
Klaus is a subversive, ingenious little puzzle platformer that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who claims to be a fan of video games. The nods to common tropes in the medium serve as both a bit of cerebral humor and as the basis for some truly inspired bits of level design, and the presentation blends excellent sprite work with flashy film-inspired animation. Minor annoyances, like the touchpad feeling a bit cumbersome and some irritating audio design, shouldn’t keep players away from this masterful little piece of gaming love.
Review copy of Klaus provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4. For more information about scoring, check our Review Policy here.