Imagine slowly drifting back into consciousness, faint red light flooding your closed eyelids. As you come to, you gradually realize you have no recollection of how you ended up in this place. In fact, now that you think of it, you can’t even recall your name. A glance down at your arm reveals a tattoo – “Klaus”. Unsure of what else to do, you set off further into the basement, still glowing in ominous, scarlet hues.
When Klaus opens, it’s easy to believe that the player is assuming the role of Klaus, a little man sporting a very business-like tie and a shock of fabulous, poofy black hair. Working your way through the first few challenges, Klaus begins to sense your presence, and thanks you for your help. You are, in actuality, allies working together.
This is a game about cooperation. The basics are similar to most platformers. Klaus begins to diverge from the norm in its clever use of the DualShock 4’s oft neglected touchpad: you can use the touchpad in conjunction with the analogue stick to activate doorways and drag platforms. These touchpad mechanics form a large foundation of Klaus’s many puzzles, and offer a fresh way to approach otherwise genre-standard features.
Entering prismatic portals hidden in each level, players are transported to secret, extra-challenging areas. Successfully completing a secret room rewards “Klaus” with a fragment of his lost memory. In the first secret area I encountered, the level presented me with the simple instruction, “Left”. I quickly discovered this meant I could only move left, even if I pushed right on the analogue stick. Moving exclusively to the left may seem like a simple enough premise at first glance, but add spikes and moving platforms into the mix and the difficulty level swiftly ramps up. It’s surprisingly difficult to suppress the urge to move your character to the right.
Even the normal levels grow increasingly difficult. Rather than becoming needlessly frustrating, however, Klaus pulls you in and makes you want to figure out how to beat each challenge. I never wanted to put my controller down out of frustration.
Eventually you make a friend, K1, who you can control simultaneously or separate the two characters to access areas you can only reach by their respective unique powers. In one case, you have to use K1 to use his long, coasting jump to delicately navigate vertical tunnels full of trampoline-lined walls opposite gleaming spikes. At the other times, you might need K1 to toss the smaller Klaus into narrow walkways to unlock a door or retrieve a key.
All of these disparate elements compound to create challenging puzzles that offer a huge rush of satisfaction upon completion. They have a cerebral, almost Portal kind of feel. The game presents you with a challenge and encourages you to think outside of the box. In some situations, you aren’t even expected to move your characters. Instead, the characters solely rely on you, their silent guardian, to retrieve keys and open doorways using deft command of the touch controls.
Klaus’s level and puzzle design is a triumph, complemented by excellent controls. Platforming rarely feels as fluid as it does when playing Klaus. There’s no sliding or goofy physics. Jumping comes in a few varieties—long jumps, staggered vertical jumps, and short tapping jumps. They all have a tactile feel, and they’re a delight to learn.
Klaus has got style in other arenas – it has atmosphere for days. The game sports a blocky 2D color scheme that is both simplistic and beautiful. Players guide Klaus and K1 through stalagmite encrusted caves, steaming, spiky basements, and windy emerald tunnels. The music, too, is well executed, with muted trumpets and funk-driven bass lines that catch your ear, but don’t distract from other elements of the game.
Klaus is a pleasant surprise. Its gorgeous colors, fluid controls and ingenious level design are a prime example of the ways in which this classic genre can still surprise us. La Cosa’s first video game is quite the accomplishment, and I can’t wait to see what they have in store for us next.