You wake up with a start, in an unfamiliar room, everything tinted a ghostly red. After realising you don’t know where you are, the dawning realisation that you don’t know who you are descends. You have no memory, just the suit on your back and the word ‘KLAUS’ tattooed on your arm. No, this isn’t another Saw movie. This is Klaus.
This platformer, from La Cosa Entertainment, sets out with the goal of breaking platformer convention. When tackling a genre that has existed since the dawn of gaming, it is all too easy to be sucked into a void of forgettableness. Klaus, I’m pleased to say, resists this fate. You won’t forget it all too easily.
As you guide Klaus through puzzle-based levels, initially appearing to be set in the depths of an office basement, he comments on your existence. His words are displayed brightly as font on the walls, jarring and unmissable. His awareness of you - asking things like, “How did you do that?” as you remove obstacles from his path - adds an uncanny dimension. Rather than feeling like the all-powerful controller of the protagonist, you instead feel like a helping hand nudging him along. And in later levels, when he begins to resist your rule and disobey your controls entirely, you realise you are nothing but a dictator, and Klaus has a life of his own. Klaus, therefore, begins to feel less like a graphic on the screen and much more of a physical character. His banal comments and conversation are enjoyable, and shape the story. He is also partial to sarcasm and irony, and I found myself smirking more than once. He is a humorous companion to your gameplay.
It is Klaus’ unpredictability which really sets Klaus apart. As well as refusing commands, he at one point breaks away from your control and completes a level alone, relying on you to clear the way. He challenges you and challenges your authority. His rebellion is accompanied by a smug demand to know, “How does it feel to lose some control ... how does it feel?” In fact, I felt pretty enraged. This isn’t how platformer games are supposed to work. I am the controller, the giver and taker of life. The godliness of complete authority has been removed. After the initial unsettlement of a genre being ripped from its expectations though, you come to praise Klaus for its daring initiative.
The puzzles throughout the game feel less like puzzles and more like simple manipulation of the environment They are not particularly challenging, and don’t seem to scale with the difficult level of the game. On your travels, elements of Klaus’ history become apparent. It transpires he is a programmer, and has the ability to hack computers. Coupled with the brute strength of his newfound colossal companion, K1, who can smash through walls, yourself and the two characters collaborate to create a platformer journey like no other. K1 seems to be an extension of Klaus, with less intelligence and agility, but with power (and his cape-like outfit allows him to glide). The two rely on each other, as certain puzzles can only be completed by one or the other, and it is up to the player to decide between them, or to use them both at the same time.
Klaus’ story is also told in the form of unlockable mini-levels, which piece by piece gather parts of Klaus’ history and personality. These levels are very abstract, and allude to rather than outrightly show what part of Klaus that they are representing. Most memorable for me was a level in which Klaus can only move left - Klaus is left-handed. This fragmented method of storytelling is extraordinary, and forms one of the most memorable elements of the game. I will not include any more examples, as the feeling of discovery is largely the concept of the game.
The player’s involvement is even more immersive in that you must use the touchpad on the PlayStation DualShock 4 to manipulate platforms, doors, and other parts of the environment to allow Klaus through. While this causes a halt in pace - unless you are particularly dextrous, you often have to pause to work the touchpad, before continuing to maneuver Klaus - you feel like an integral component of the journey. It only becomes particularly fiddly when you must manage K1 and Klaus, and get them into position whilst also attempting to grab platforms etc in time for them to get onto them.
Despite being compared to Super Meat Boy quite frequently, Klaus never reaches that level of maddening frustration. The difficulty curve is relatively gentle, and although it is ramped up to feel suitably challenging, and deaths will occur more frequently than you’d like, you’re never tempted to give up. If anything, the earlier chapters are almost painfully slow, clearly directed at newcomers to the genre. For a more seasoned gamer, they can be a little tiresome, and you will definitely complete the game in much less than the 8 hours specified.
The soundtrack and the mechanical setting are perfectly paired, punctuated with grunts and questioning sounds from Klaus on the screen. Colour schemes and environmental elements such as objects that can be interacted with change from level to level, accomplishing a sense of variety.
KLAUS (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
In all, Klaus deviates from the plethora of platformer games before it by being heavily story-driven, and by telling its tale imaginatively and artistically. Although the gameplay is unsurprising, Klaus’ journey of self-discovery is thoroughly enjoyable. The use of the touchpad can be a little awkward and definitely halts the pace, but the use of the player as an invisible character within the game is imaginative and raises some interesting ideas about one’s place in the world of a platformer. Klaus is a little too easy, and barely rakes in a few hours of gameplay unless you are a complete beginner, which can feel unrewarding. But it makes a refreshing change from frustratingly difficult titles, and serves as a pleasant way to experience plot in a surprising genre.