When games break the 4th wall, even when it's to explicitly give you instructions, they're rarely doing it in a way that treats you as anything beyond just a passive viewer, suddenly brought into the reality of this world just for the sake of a joke or reference directed at you, the person with the controller. You are only The Player, an outside entity only brought into the narrative for a line or two here and there, a self-aware "joke" on the part of the game as it makes fun of how it's makingyou do the same repetitive task again, a mention of pressing the buttons as a character says "I don't know what pressing A even means! But someone does!"
What's interesting to me about Klaus is that it actually pulls you, the player, in as another character, a real figure that's also going on the journey with Klaus after he wakes up with no memory, in a strange building, and nothing but the word Klaus tattooed on his arm. Amnesia, y'all. Still a threat. But he talks to you directly, wonders who you are. Why you're helping him at all. Talks about how glad he is that you're there with him and confides in you how he feels about K1, the other playable character.
K1 also confides in you, so you're not just a figment of Klaus' imagination, and his thoughts are different, creating not just a character with a separate internal life, but also a character who's more involved than he originally seems. He's not just a big brute who punches things. He likes sushi. And he definitely knows more about what's going on this world than he lets on.
It's a bit of an overused trope by now but I like the way the words appear in the world – a small sound emanating from the speaker of the PS4 controller as they do so, again as though you're being directly addressed, and not just from the screen.
Your main interactions are controlling Klaus and K1, swapping between them as necessary, and using the trackpad to control certain platforms. One of my bigger problems is that Klaus's controls could use a little fine-tuning. There are just some oddities to it – jumping too close to walls can kind of fling you backwards, landing on a ledge the right way keeps you stuck in your falling animation. The jumping never quite feels tight, but the platforming is often extremely forgiving, so it doesn't make much difference that way. It was fun but never particularly amazing to play, and what really got me through was the story.
It reminded me a lot of Thomas Was Alone, in how it follows multiple characters whose thoughts are being narrated out to you. Even something about the tone – a quest for self, where you fit with the world and if there's something more to it – reminded me of TWA in a very positive way. The difference is, you don't just search for these answers on the main journey – Klaus has a series of collectible memories you can find along the way, complete with a foreboding flurry of horns and an animation of a frightened Klaus trying to escape as he's dragged in.
These not only answer questions regarding the backstory of the game and unlock the real ending, but they're also some of the more unique areas of the game, silhouetting all the foreground images and adding in a unique gimmick of some sort. The world is black and white and only by manipulating the white areas can you see threats, platforms, the way forward; you're endlessly falling; you can only move to the left. These additionally come with titles like "knowledge," and while all of the gimmicks don't necessarily match the words in the most obvious ways, the memories you unlock do, and once you've found all of them in an area, it takes you to a different level, platforming through your memories as you relive and remember them all together.
It was these parts, in addition to the way it brings the player in as a character, that I felt made Klaus more interesting. The memory levels are some of the most visually striking, and the full spots can be extremely affecting, detailing love, loss, success, and failure through his life.
The memory sections were a good way to actually reward someone for going off the beaten path and finding something that, admittedly, isn't exactly super hidden. The revelations about the characters, the world, exactly what's happening, were very interesting and also helped turn some of what you expected on its head. An early reveal about the nature of Klaus makes it so you can guess a little more about K1, but there are further reveals that flesh this out even more and help shape your perception of him.
Also shoutout to the game for being very forgiving if you miss a memory – and I almost recommend you do because I thought the first ending was good. If you miss, once you beat the game, you can load a level select, choose it, get your memory, then immediately go to the level select, last level, and see the other ending. No having to play through hours of the same content to get back to the end; it just lets you go right to it, which I certainly appreciated for the purpose of this review.
Klaus worked on a level I didn't really expect. While the controls and some of the programming seem like they might have needed an extra pass to get just right, it's a very interesting game with a great story, some excellent and unusual levels, and a cool use for both the collectibles and the player's involvement in the story. It's nice to see games continuing to try and push forward narrative in the side-scrolling platformer, and Klaus is a very strong entry into this genre.