At first glance, Klaus appears to be all style and no substance, as players navigate an amnesiac man in a suit through a series of jumping puzzles that could easily have come—in color scheme, look, and feel—from the Super Meat Boy team. The only thing new about the fact that players can manipulate various doors, platforms, and elevators with a touchpad is that Klaus remarks upon it, senselessly breaking the fourth wall as he cracks jokes about ’80s buddy-cop films that undercut his underlying depression and loneliness in the process. (Games like Portal and Stealth Bastard Deluxe were always careful to have other characters provide the frustration-dampening humor.) Even Klaus’s recruitment of the larger, brutish K1, who uses his shirt to glide through the air and a fierce uppercut to gain altitude, does nothing more than bring the partnering mechanics of The Lost Vikings to mind.
But, then, Klaus takes a sobering turn toward the Kafkaesque and putting Klaus’s individual struggles into context. The more that the oppressively corporate backdrop of Klaus’s world comes into focus, the more Klaus rebels against the limitations of both the world and the game that depicts it. In an effort to exert a sense of free will, Klaus slowly squirms away from the player’s control, petulantly doing the opposite (moving left instead of right) before outright striking off on his own, forcing players to find other ways to prevent a depressed, Lemmings-like Klaus from killing himself. Later, without giving too many secrets away, Klaus—a computer programmer—finds a way to hack into Klaus, further upending many of the game’s conventions and requiring players to make use of the sort of outside-the-box thinking found in self-aware one-room puzzlers like This Is the Only Level.
Both Klaus and the game are clones in search of higher sentience, and they both get there in the end.
Klaus also utilizes a series of secret memory zones, most of which have their own unique twists, based on whatever Klaus is remembering. (Upon recalling that he’s left-handed, Klaus can move only to the left; when remembering his brother, he and his mirror image must successfully clear a twin gauntlet of spike traps.) These existential and psychoanalytic platforming sections also inventively shift perspective: In one, Klaus turns into a spiked wheel that must flit about, dodging pits filled with deadly, immobile Klauses.
Sadly, these sections are the game’s smallest and most optional portion. While developer Victor Velasco encourages players to experience them all by minimally hiding them (they’re also all required to reach the true ending), much of what lies between these dazzling moments feels padded. Although each zone utilizes a fresh color scheme and introduces a few new obstacles (angry robotic workers who explode if Klaus gets too close, electrical plates that use static charges to enable wall jumps), there isn’t that much difference between a stream of acid and a laser beam; both, in the end, kill Klaus.
The puzzle-platform genre is a crowded one, and Klaus struggles to be more than a oversaturated reskin, especially when the controls fail to be as precise as necessary. Generous checkpoints keep this from being frustrating, but leave the lengthy boss encounters feeling unpolished and disappointing, as they’re scripted to the point of requiring only the memorization of attack patterns. But when it plunges away from the sort of colorful minimalism found in VVVVVV and loses itself in the surreal imagery of the imagination, leaping across the silhouettes of books before ambulating up a lover’s thigh, Klaus comes into its own. In this, Klaus and the game itself are eerily similar—both clones in search of higher sentience, and they both get there in the end.