There are few gaming genres more nostalgic and fondly remembered than 3D platformers. Games like Banjo-Kazooie, Jak & Daxter and Ratchet & Clank were hits with the popular hero/sidekick or dynamic duo formula. For the majority of gamers born pre-2000, these were a huge part of their virtual journeys. And like a cosy comfort blanket, they hold warm memories begging to be revisited. Clive ‘N’ Wrench from Dinosaur Bytes Studio, published by Numskull Games, looks to resurrect those fuzzy platforming memories. And in many ways, indeed it does. But it also revives some memories of 3D platforming that we’d rather forget.
In an anthropomorphic animated world, the tyrannical Dr Daucus looks to conquer space and time. To facilitate this, he has stolen Professor Nancy Merricarp’s time travel blueprints and created a rift in the space-time continuum, allowing him to visit different eras and warp them to his desires. It’s up to Nancy’s plucky cousin Clive the rabbit and sidekick Wrench the monkey to travel through time and stop the evil Doctor’s machinations!
A Collector’s Guide to Time Travel
With the help of a decked-out 1950s refrigerator, players guide the duo through eleven different eras in time via the hub world known as the ‘Space Between Time’. Each era has been tainted by Dr Daucus and his search for ancient stones, mysterious artefacts of untold power. A recognisable and safe format, as 3D platformers go. But although some of this is explained in the cutscenes and was detailed in the trailers, there are a few points that still are a little hazy. The Space Between Time itself is never fully explained and several conversations point to Dr Daucus concocting a purple elixir but give no hint of why or what it actually does. Besides being rather painful to step on and having a strange effect on a couple of the era’s inhabitants. But if you’re all about the gameplay, then it’s easily overlooked.
Collectables are the bread and butter of this adventure. All eleven worlds have a number of pocket watches to collect to repair the time rift and ancient stones that Dr Daucus is seeking. These can mainly be found through thorough exploration and the completion of certain tasks. These worlds are very fun to explore, all centred around a certain theme and chock full of fun little details and easter eggs. Donning a different costume for each world, Clive and Wrench can jump and battle their way through the likes of Victorian England, the swamps of Louisiana meets 1940s New York and ancient Greek islands. A creative thematic boss awaits at the end of each area, cleverly playing on renowned figures such as Jack the Ripper, Baron Samedi and Cleopatra. It’ll take nimble acrobatics and platforming prowess to get the better of them.
Clive and Wrench have a variety of combinable moves to navigate the various platforming puzzles, all available from the off—no need to unlock or learn any moves in order to progress. A trusty double jump will clear most obstacles. A crouch jump scales those extra hard-to-reach platforms. And the tricky but satisfying side flip will also get you a little extra height (if you can perfect it). Clive can also break into a sprint to make longer leaps and finally, the Chimp Chopper will allow you to glide by flailing Wrench above your head. The latter immediately conjured memories of the bonkers but hilarious Crystal Dynamics platformer Whiplash. Indeed, a key feature to enjoying a platformer is feeling in control. Unfortunately, at least in this port, Clive ‘N’ Wrench falls victim to classic platforming bugbears.
Caught in A Tailspin
While occasionally smooth, the controls tend to slide back and forth between extremes. Veering between the feel of trudging through mud to sliding on ice, it’s often very difficult to execute even the simplest leaps and manoeuvres. This is coupled with an always-following camera that switches to a fixed perspective in tight spaces. Fine on paper, but when you’re attempting a tricky series of jumps from one angle and the camera suddenly swings back around, you can easily find yourself plummeting down to your doom.
Another rather infuriating aspect is hit detection. In similar games, when a character is hit, there is animation or a graphical effect to indicate this. The sprite blinks for a couple of seconds, falls backwards, flashes red etc. Here, there’s no way of knowing whether Clive has been hit, aside from the health bar going down and a small sound effect. Boss fights especially are much more difficult and maddening than they should be thanks to this. Simple attacks can drain your health in seconds and you’ll be restarting the battle before you can blink. Conversely, you’ll rarely get the distance right for Clive’s attacks. Enemies will regularly close the distance and take a chunk out of you. Even randomly send you flying upwards.
What it ultimately boils down to is a lack of consistency. Clunky controls and slightly heavy-going mechanics can be forgiven if they are at least consistent; the original 1996 Tomb Raider is a great example of this. Sadly you never know whether you’re going to execute a jump or land a hit correctly. A jump you ace one minute will fail the next, you’ll hang from a ledge one minute and fall the next. A slight dip in the floor will not affect your sprint on one surface and send you careering off into oblivion on another. And this definitely impacts one of the main draws of the game: the desire to explore and find every collectable, which incidentally there is a reward for.
Bright and Bouncy
Like the platformer darlings that inspired it, Clive ‘N’ Wrench combines bright and colourful visuals with charming, cartoon-like animations. The characters are full of personality and the cutscenes are funny and informative, even without using speech. The different worlds are also well-designed and vibrantly reflect the era they represent. Lots of screenshot-worthy locales! Being on the Switch, there is a slight graphical downgrade to be expected, but there is also a couple of other blips. Texture pop-in does (ahem) pop up at intervals which can be a little distracting and occasionally, depending on where you’re standing, sprites and assets can disappear completely. Luckily, this doesn’t happen too often.
Sound design is also laudable. Clive and Wrench lively whoop and cheer their way through their adventures, the soundtrack is bouncy and whimsical. Each level has different areas with different music tracks to match. The main theme of Corsair’s Cove is a jaunty, head-bopping earworm and Dr Daucus’s elixir factory theme in Victorian London goes way harder than it needs to—exceedingly epic. A variety of styles and sounds make up each theme and all complement each other nicely.
A Pocket of Time
Although there are eleven worlds to explore, Clive ‘N’ Wrench’s experience is fairly contained. Taking anywhere from 5 hours to double figures, your dedication to collecting those pocket watches and ancient stones (and skill in doing so) will play a big part. However, there is also a speedrun timer included as an optional feature, so speedrunners looking to test their mettle can easily keep track.
Even so, some sections are rather short and could definitely have been fleshed out more. Two bosses in particular were incredibly short and underwhelming. You can see the comedic approach they were going for, but considering the levels that preceded them, they don’t land very well and feel anticlimactic. For one of them, I definitely hoped to square off against a beefy centurion with a name like Bark Anthony, but alas it was not to be.
On The Whole
It’s clear to see that Clive ‘N’ Wrench is undoubtedly a product of passion and a huge amount of love has gone into it. It is undeniably charming with many fun aspects and platforming fans will find lots to enjoy. Certainly entertaining enough to while away a few afternoons and very impressive work from a solo developer. However, its inconsistencies are hard to ignore and prevent it from reaching its true Switch platforming potential.
Thus it earns a Thumb Culture Silver Award.
Now perhaps Wrench could get to work on tightening up those controls a little.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.