Being both an avid rhythm gamer and Pokémon fan, Harmoknight certainly caught my eye. I’ve enjoyed many rhythm games over the years from Guitar Hero to Rhythm Heaven, thus I was eager to get my hands on Game Freak’s latest creation. I only hoped that the new 3DS downloadable title could mimic some of the creativity and charm of the DS’s gem, Rhythm Heaven, which featured difficult rhythm gameplay, an incredible soundtrack, and enough charm to keep a smile on your face throughout the experience.

The game takes place in the land of Harmonia, a place where music goes hand-in-hand with actions and events throughout the land. A group of sinister creatures known as the Nozoids have invaded the land and the young protagonist, Tempo, must go on a quest to save the princess and the citizens of Harmonia from an evil curse created by these intruders.

One of the most important keys to any rhythm title is the music. Just look at any of the more successful titles out there and you’ll realize that a common denominator is a great soundtrack. To me, there are three possibilities for producing this sort of soundtrack, and each has led to successes in their own right. First of all, games can take tracks from bands and artists that gamers are familiar with, which was a successful tactic in Guitar Hero, Rock Band, Lumines, and Ouendan (and Elite Beat Agents). Secondly, games can rely on nostalgia and incredibly strong soundtracks from other games to create the stage (Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy is a great example of this). And finally, if the game relies on its own unique set of songs, the tracks must have the utmost quality to create the best games (Rhythm Heaven’s soundtrack is incredible).

Harmoknight features its own soundtrack as well as a few remakes of Pokémon songs to drive its story and while the composition is strong, I wasn’t all that impressed with the entire score. The music certainly is catchy and suitable for a game that synchronizes beats with your button presses but overall, the songs were fairly forgettable on the whole. Also, another problem is that many of the songs recur throughout the game’s 50+ levels which also adds to the overall lack of musical greatness. Thus, this was a major problem with the game from the onset, seeing as a rhythm game should have music, both catchy and incredible, that stays in my head throughout the day and makes me want to come back to the game for the music alone (I still remember many of the songs from Rhythm Heaven and it’s been a few years since I completed the game whereas it’s hard to recall one of the songs from this title having just finished it).

The gameplay features a nice mix of endless runner-style gameplay coupled in with rhythmic button input. The levels do evolve throughout your experience, with the later ones being the most complicated and fulfilling. At the beginning, button presses are restricted to A for attacking and B for Jumping whereas later you’ll be pressing the directional pad to dodge obstacles and X to activate further attacks.

Another gameplay variation involves in-level character changes. Though Tempo will see most of the action in the game, two other allies will join the fray in Lyra and Tyko. Though their inherent gameplay does change in terms of the enemies and obstacles you’ll face with each different character, the main mechanics stay largely the same in terms of the rhythmic button-presses (Lyra shoots a bow at a target, while Tyko and his sidekick Cymbi can attack two separate levels of obstacles with A & X).

Levels also change up in other ways as well, such as rails levels where you’ll ride in a mine cart and clock tower levels where the tempo can change throughout the level. Though the game is for the most part score based, you do have hit points that carry over through the levels; if you run out, you’ll have to restart from the beginning of a level. Finally, if you manage to earn a gold medal on a level (which I didn’t find to be too difficult), you can opt to try a faster version of the song for fun (these are more difficult but still not too difficult to achieve gold medals on if you’re good and/or persistent).

Most of the worlds have a boss fight and a few mini-bosses strewn throughout the levels. These battles are a little more cinematic than the rest of the levels and feature cut scenes split up by rounds of button presses akin to PaRappa the Rapper. Other levels include special ones such as a dance off and stadiums that have you pressing buttons on nearly every beat.

Graphically, the game is bright, colorful, and the environments and enemies almost remind me of Kirby. The character models are charming and their 2D representations are also strong. The story/cut scenes are very cheesy and probably something most will not pay much attention to (which is expected in a rhythm game). Also, the world maps are beautiful looking.

Thus, I was torn when writing this review. It’s obvious that the game has some polish in terms of aesthetics and plays quite well in terms of gameplay. However, though I like the fact that it’s a new, unique series (which is nice to see from Game Freak every now and then), I almost feel like they would have been better served to stick with the Pokémon motif for this game. The sole reason why I feel like a Pokémon themed game would be better implemented is that the music in the Pokémon series is fantastic and there are easily over 100 songs to choose from. Even if they didn’t want to make full remakes of all of the songs they could have included, having us play to the original versions of the songs would have worked just as well (as Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy does masterfully).

It’s the fact that the music is so forgettable that made me have such an average opinion of this game. Had the music been Pokémon themed songs, all of the songs could have been memorable and would have doubled as nostalgic mediums for fans of the series (and for non-fans, they could appreciate the series’ wonderful music). I liked playing through the 5 unlockable Pokémon songs in the game but these were more of a teaser to me and reminded me that I could have been playing songs from that series.

All in all, the game is relatively short (about 5 hours for the skilled gamer), though appropriately portioned for a downloadable title. However, at $15, I wish there was a little more content to be had (possibly some sort of online features or level editor). Had it been something closer to $5, I feel like the amount of content would be just right.