Because platformers have been around since the game industry first gained traction, newcomers must surprise players to stand out from the crowd of Marios and Raymen. The puzzle-oriented platformer Klaus accomplishes this feat thanks to its clever level design and intriguing storytelling that subverts genre conventions.
Klaus begins with the titular character waking up with no knowledge of who he is or why he’s there. The platforming is fairly standard, but the intersection of narrative and gameplay is where the game sets itself apart. Klaus is aware of your presence and influence as his only lifeline. The story unravels via Klaus’ internal narration and conversation with you, which appear on the walls as you progress. Klaus shares his thoughts on the stage elements, the level design, and other characters. I always enjoyed reading Klaus’ thoughts and fourth-wall-breaking chatter.
The narrative and gameplay come together in other ways, too. Klaus gets tired of being bossed around and rebels against your controls, doing the opposite of your input. In another area, he moves independently and it’s your responsibility to move components of the level to ensure he makes it safely through. In another, he hacks the game, glitching out the world. That particular area is one of the most fun sections; the rules crumble around you to create a surreal and unpredictable set of challenges, like using your own dead bodies as a bridge across a spike pit, or anchoring a moving exit door with a platform so you can reach it. These thoughtful twists add an intriguing layer to the familiar puzzle/platforming formula.
The core mechanics also have some surprises waiting under the surface. In the early stages, Klaus gains the companionship of K1, a massive character who comes along for the adventure. While Klaus can double jump and hack computers, K1 can break down walls and glide. The levels push the two characters further apart as they progress, but I like how they still collaborate. Even though Klaus can be on the other side of the stage, his path inevitably leads him to a computer to hack to open a path for K1. The same is often true for K1, as several of the levels require him to smash something to allow Klaus to progress.
The puzzles integrate a variety of deathtraps like killer robots, laser beams, fans, and saws. They combine these opposing elements in intriguing ways, like destroying enemy robots with a moving platform that shoot saws, or guiding a key down an assembly line-like path lined with lasers. You never know what to expect in the next segment, which is what gives Klaus much of its allure.
Even more off-the-wall ideas await in the bonus areas, like controlling four mirror versions of Klaus simultaneously, running at super-speed, or jumping in low gravity. The puzzles are cool, but I wish they pushed the concepts further. For example, one puzzle had me redirecting lasers to deliver a key to Klaus. That idea has potential, but after the puzzle was over, it wasn’t built upon. This prevents the experience from developing into a truly mind-bending affair, but it also doesn’t get too repetitive.
Klaus and K1 control with the responsiveness you’d want, but with platformers, precision is key and the d-pad is often the most exact way to control a character. Unfortunately, players are unable to use the d-pad to control Klaus and K1. The left analog stick is adequate when shrewd precision isn’t necessary, but using the d-pad could allow for more accuracy in some of the more careful platforming sequences. Instead, the d-pad acts as a way to extend the camera for a longer view – something that isn’t used as often. One section requires Klaus to traverse platforms with deadly saws spinning on them, providing very little room for error – and the analog stick doesn’t make it easy. Thankfully, the sections that require truly accurate platforming aren’t the norm, meaning that this problem isn’t pervasive.
I can recall many times I involuntarily smiled as I saw what the level designers came up with. Those exhilarating moments of discovery and excitement – the moment you see the approach the designer took – are what will stick with me when I look back on my time with Klaus.