Sometimes a video game will ape a different medium. It might use a comic book layout to convey information, or a storybook veneer as a way to set tone. Or it might do something odd like set itself inside a comic book and have characters jump between panels, or inside cable television and have the levels be channels (I didn’t make either of those up by the way, leave your guesses as to what they are in the comments), and often times a video game will ape an Anime. Oftentimes they will homage a genre, or have a full anime opening to introduce themselves, like Monark, for example, or Persona. Sometimes though, that’s not enough, and a game has to go even harder, not simply being inspired by the genre, not poking fun at it, but trying to be it. Mid 90s fighting game Evil Zone/ Erejevatsu was such a game, having theme music, eye catches, and next episode previews for each character and each match, all thematically appropriate to each character.
If you haven’t guessed yet, I bring this all up because Kokoro Clover Season 1, more than any of the games I referenced, even more than Evil Zone, is trying to be an anime. Not simply homage it, but to be a Saturday Morning, 30 minute, 12 episode anime. Including selecting a time of day for each “episode” to start at. A decision that, as far as I can tell, is purely cosmetic and is quite charming.
The fact that the gameplay is in 4:3 is also another cute nod to the old era of anime Kokoro Clover is homaging.
So what is Kokoro Clover about? Well, a couple of thieves steal an artifact called the Kokoro Clover – four heart shaped jewels arranged in a rough 4 leaf clover shape – from an airship, only to crash land in a forest. They are found by Protagonist Treffy, a young girl with the ability to communicate with spirits and who has almost never left said forest because of warnings from her grandfather that her powers would be feared by the outside world. One wacky mishap later and the clover shaped jewel attaches itself to Treffy’s non-functional compass and turns it into a plot pointing compass and off Treffy and her spirit friends go on an adventure while also being pursued by thieves, government agents, pirates, and more. All of that, plus additional exposition and some boss fights, happened in the Kokoro Clover‘s first level, which corresponds to the first episode of the Kokoro Clover “anime”
So let’s discuss gameplay for a second. Kokoro Clover is a 2D Platformer. You can jump, you can shoot, you can dodge via dancing and you can call in your spirit buddies for support or to inspirit for an elemental boost to your attacks in later levels. There are hidden collectibles in each level and there are boss fights. The platforming is actually pretty solid, though the jump feels a little limited for the height of the levels, but there are plenty of platforms to ascend with and there aren’t any tricky jumps over death pits I’ve come across, just tricky jumps to access a collectible. The levels are fairly simple, left to right, avoid and defeat enemies, search around for treasures and collectibles, make your way to the checkpoint to get some plot and probably a boss fight. The boss fights are a little more involved than the regular levels, each with a complicated attack pattern that you’ll need to pick up and dodge and an elemental alignment you’ll need to plan around. However, even these are a bit too…. easy? Straightforward? Just don’t have the Je ne se quois you might expect. They’re not bad, they’re just not quite all that you feel like they could be given the sheer polish the sheer level of presentation and charm Kokoro Clover has. This is partly by design, as it’s a self described “easy/ casual platformer”, but it still feels like something is missing, and I can’t even quite elaborate on what the “what” is.
Actually, let me take a step back and explain the basic layout of every level, conceptually. There is an animated Opening theme (the same one each time, but thankfully skippable), then there is an introductory plot segment, followed by a platforming segment that continues until you reach a checkpoint, after which another plot segment and probably a boss will happen. Repeat several times until the end of the level, followed by an ending (also skippable), a “sponsor segment” that is a cast and crew roll and a “next episode” preview of the next level. Kokoro Clover Season 1 is so committed to the anime bit that it sort of totally overshadows the gameplay elements. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay that exists is competent, it just seems underdone compared to everything else.
And there are some other issues too. Kokoro Clover runs natively at 720p, which is fine except the game ONLY runs at that resolution with no option to full screen the game or adjust the scaling for larger monitors, something to be aware of if you, like me, are playing the game on a 4k monitor. Also irritating is that Kokoro Clover insists on using subtitles. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not asking for a dub, this game has Japanese audio in parts and it’s quite cute and the subtitles for that make perfect sense and I appreciate them. What I do NOT appreciate, however is that instead of translating the word balloons that are used during levels instead of audio dialogue, they used subtitles. Subtitles. For word balloons. For a game with a lot of word balloons.
It’s not all bad. The story is actually very fun, the music is pretty good but some of it gets overused (And just skip the OP and ED after levels. I like these but I skip those in real anime too) and there’s a lot of little collectibles to find. Don’t get me wrong, the gameplay that exists is competent, it just seems underdone compared to everything else. has 18 levels, 12 story, six EX bonus levels, an arcade mode to play levels without story segments, a boss rush, options to set a custom selection of elemental attack, spirit supports, and dances before each level. It’s all quite fun and shows a lot of thought, it’s just there’s a lot of little things that are off.
Looking into the history of Kokoro Clover, it’s technically a combination of two previous releases, the first and second half of “the season.” I don’t know if the nearly $20 price for the amount of content is right for everyone, but if it gets a Season 2, or even if it goes on sale I would pick it up then.
Tim reviewed Kokoro Clover on PC with a review code. Kokoro Clover is also available on Nintendo Switch.