The game that's a cartoon series So Kokoro Clover Season 1 has an interesting way of presenting itself. One that an anime fan like me was drawn to just by hearing it described. You see, the gimmick here is that the whole experience is styled as a Saturday morning cartoon show. It's split up across 12 "episodes", and each tells a small individual part of the larger overall story. It really does feel like you're playing an anime series with each episode's structure following the same one as the cartoons from your childhood. They start with a cutscene that introduces characters and tells the basic framing and start of the story, before a commercial break kicks in, then we're into a gameplay section before another commercial break, and the story section leads into the boss fight. We even get a classic "end credit" closure scene that teases scenes from the next episode, while a song plays and the characters mess around. It adds a very charming and fun framing device to the story, creating a rather unique style. I don't recall any other platformer, or any game in general even, using this same gimmick. It genuinely does invoke the whole "90s anime series" feel and this, along with the story, were real highlights.
And speaking of story… Here we also get something very familiar from Japanese cartoons. Magical Girls. Yip, we play as a lovable and kind "Spirit Summoner" called Treffy. She lives in the forest with her grandpa and leads a sheltered life. The people of the local village are scared of her because of her magical abilities, so old Grandpa has kept her home for most of her childhood. Her seemingly unique ability to control elemental spirits has made her an outcast who has very little contact with the outside world. In fact, her only friends are two of the Elemental Spirits she can summon, called Undine and Salamander, who have been her only companions since she was very young. So she lives a peaceful but lonely life, for the most part, gathering food in the forest, doing chores, playing games, and spending time with her grandfather… Until Valx Vulcan shows up that is. With a mighty explosion, he appears in the forest one day looking for the ultra-powerful Kokoro Clover gem, which he plans to use for his own nefarious needs.
Can Treffy stop his plans? Will she keep the Clover from evil hands?
Tune in to the next episode to find out folks!
Now I do want to stress that the presentation is the real highlight here. The sprite work is lovely with big bold characters, brightly colored and full of charm, being constantly on show. The art direction perfectly clicks with the anime-style episode transitions and effects to create a unique-looking experience and this is certainly a main draw for sure. What wasn't as well done, however? The gameplay. As far as it goes the whole experience is at best not very deep, and at worst so basic that it's barely engaging. Controls are simple, walking left and right, jumping and a "shoot" button are all you really need to finish the whole game as both platforming and combat are ridiculously simple. Every normal enemy takes only a few waves of your wand and they're done. Not a single one outside of bosses was a challenge or did anything but stay still or walk left and right. The gameplay feels like an optional extra to fill out the excellent story segments and the juxtaposition between the quality of the two elements is rather jarring.
The thing is though, the game SEEMS to have more going on than it actually does. As you play through the episodes you'll collect cards, new elemental forms, new assisting characters, and emotes that you can assign and swap between at any time. It gives the impression that your build and choices are important and will have some effect on the challenge ahead. However, you soon realize that they aren't DOING anything. Or at least not much. Changing elemental form does nothing but swap palettes, giving Treffy a different dress and hair color. Even though the enemies do have an element assigned to them, changing to the opposing one isn't needed as even the same element will take down an opponent in the same amount of hits as any other. The emotes you get make Treffy do a cute, and very well-animated, little dance and there are many to collect. Again though, they don't do ANYTHING. It looks cute but you'll find zero reason to do them, it's not like this is an online experience where you'll interact with other players, it's a single-player platformer and doesn't need useless emotes. The only thing worth changing is your assisting character. These do a special attack when you press the button, Undine heals for instance while Salamander unleashes a ground-hugging fire attack, but even these were more like optional extras as I think I used them maybe 3 times and only during boss fights.
The other element of gameplay, one important to platform games, is the actual platforming. But here that's basic as hell too. It's simple, basic, "my first platform game" style at most. No wall jumping, pixel-perfect leaping, spike dodging, trap avoiding action going on. It's as simple as can be, mostly consisting of one press leaps to a higher level with zero skill required. I had more problems with the controls than anything else. For some reason, the game doesn't use the joystick, with movement left and right being done by the D-Pad only. Which felt really out of place in a modern game, I haven't used a Dpad for exclusive movement since the early PS1 days and, while I used to be fine with it, I just ain't anymore. I kept finding myself returning my thumbs to the neutral position of being on the stick and would try to move using that method whenever I took my finger off the Dpad for any reason. The controls also feel clunky and unresponsive but as gameplay is not demanding quick reflexes or timing, it's not a particular problem. It doesn't feel good to play though, reminding me of those old crappy NES games that no one talks about anymore as they weren't good, even at the time.
Outside of the game though, we do get a few different extra things to go through that provide more content. Alongside the story mode, where you get the whole story and gameplay experience, there's also an Adventure mode. This is the same thing again but without all the window dressing: no story, no songs, no commercial breaks, basically none of the well-done and interesting stuff, just the pure gameplay. Which is the least engaging part. There's also a boss rush, where you simply face off against each end of level enemy, one after the other. You can buy items from the store, gaining new emotes and stickers, and such. There's a library where you can check info on every character, enemy, and boss. You can jump into the music player and listen to all the in-game music. There are even a couple of minigames, one a rhythm game and the other a claw machine game, that you can play but all these are entirely extra. The real meat and potatoes is the story mode but I suppose it's nice to have some optional stuff to entertain you as well.
Ultimately, Kokoro Clover Season One is a mixed bag for a niche audience. Style wise it's quite entertaining with the cartoon series framing device working extremely well. The characters and animations, the music, and the story are all extremely well done and will enchant anyone who loves cutesy anime shows. However, the actual gameplay segments feel like an afterthought and definitely won't engage those who class themselves as "gamers". It's all very simple and barebones, with very little to no challenge involved. Compared to the amazingly high quality of the story and setting, it's disappointing. As a mechanism to link together story sections, I suppose it does its job (barely) but as a game, it's an experience that many will find disappointing…However it is a fun and charming little story, so there is that.
*Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 5/10
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