PC, Nintendo Switch
February 24, 2023
Dinosaur Bytes Studio
So many games these days are working to tap into our nostalgia. With remake after remake, it’s always nice to see a completely new IP attempting to capture that same magic without the benefit of having an older game to lean back on. Clive ‘N’ Wrench is one such game, and while it wears its inspirations on its sleeve, it was built from the ground up by the dedicated team at Dinosaur Bytes and tries to capture the feeling of those old-school games all on its own.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a 3D platformer where you take control of a rabbit named Clive and a monkey named Wrench (monkey wrench, get it?) as they stumble into a time travelling adventure at the behest of Clive’s genius cousin Nancy to try and put an end to the evil Dr Daucus before he alters time forever. The inspiration from games such as Banjo-Kazooie, Mario 64, and Jak & Daxter is incredibly clear from even a cursory glance at Clive ‘N’ Wrench, but it’s time to find out if it lives up to the greats.
Like most traditional 3D platformers, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a level-based experience with each level being a semi-open world with collectables to find and platforming challenges to complete. The game also has a very familiar moveset with a double jump, a high jump, a long jump, and a glide. So even without touching a tutorial, it’s going to be pretty easy to grasp from the get-go. One complaint I do have is that Clive feels very heavy, especially when performing a standard and double jump. It’s like it takes him a second longer to leave the ground than you would expect and during my first few levels, I really felt that weight when trying to explore, especially since many platforms seem to (frustratingly) be just a little too tall to reach with a standard jump, making it feel almost useless.
Fortunately, the precise physics of the game is something that I did grasp after several hours of play, and there are only a few occasions where they are a genuine problem. The first boss fight of Clive ‘N’ Wrench is especially egregious, it just felt like Clive wasn’t fast enough to jump over oncoming projectiles, no matter how hard I tried. I did eventually realise that I could just crawl around on the ground to avoid being hit, though I’m not sure if this was the intended playstyle.
I do feel that the game is at its best during more difficult platforming challenges. There is one such area in the Egypt-themed level that was incredibly engaging and fun, I just wish that there were more challenges like this throughout the game, as it is mostly just a collectathon. Both the high jump and long jump actually feel very good to execute, so it’s really exciting when they become an important part of level traversal.
I do, however, feel that the general throughline of the game was not very well explained. For each stage, there is a separate hub area themed after that stage, and within that hub, there are portals used to access the stage itself and then one to access the boss room. I didn’t understand this at first and spent a long time trying to find the boss within the stage, thinking that beating the boss would allow me to unlock that second portal instead of the other way around.
Some of the earlier stages also have a very confusing level design, with the London-themed area being especially egregious with loading areas spread about that do a poor job of conveying where they lead. Because the level was very samey looking, I found myself getting lost and forgetting which part of the map I was in. This is especially annoying since there isn’t an in-game map to access. Later levels are better designed than this one, thankfully.
Visual and Audio Design
On a base level, the graphics of Clive ‘N’ Wrench are perfectly serviceable, Clive animates well, and animations like the glide are delightfully funny throughout the entire playtime, but unfortunately, this does not translate as well to the cutscenes. The game has multiple pre-rendered cutscenes that usually play with the introduction of and then the defeat of a boss. I found none of them funny, the characters move with strange weightlessness, and stare forward with never changing facial expressions that lean eerily close to very early attempts of 3D animation. Unfortunately, the weightlessness of the characters also affects comedic timing. While I was able to understand what each punchline was supposed to be, not a single one of them landed.
The game’s lighting also leaves something to be desired. Many of the levels, even though they are well-modelled and based on appealing settings, are set during high noon. The sun is bright and white overhead, and it casts the landscapes in a dull, flat-looking sheen. It becomes so much clearer how the lighting is failing the area design when you step into a level using more dynamic lighting. The Halloween-themed level in full darkness and the pirate level in a gorgeous orange sunset both look stunning and serve to prove the issues lighting has caused elsewhere. If all the levels utilised these lighting techniques, Clive ‘N’ Wrench would surely benefit.
I also have some problems with the sound design and music. In most stages, the music is going to be fine but unmemorable, in some others though it is positively ear-grating. In the Wild West stage specifically, there is a moment when you enter a mine that is just a cacophony of noise. There are bats shrieking overhead, minecarts grinding on rails, and enemies spinning their revolvers. All this is on top of the game’s soundtrack. I found it difficult to spend long in the mine because of this reason.
There is a time a place for a well-used reference, and while the majority of modern humour does rely on references or quotes, it does grow tiring after a time. Clive ‘N’ Wrench feels like it was making a direct reference to something every few minutes. There were so many moments when a character would say something that I could tell was referencing something but half the time I wouldn’t even know what it was, so I would just be left confused and feeling wholly excluded from the joke. I just wish that Clive ‘N’ Wrench had more of its own identity and tried to be itself, instead of so heavily leaning on jokes and references from other properties.
- Fun platforming sections
- Familiar design harkens back to the classics
- Heavy physics
- Unnoteworthy soundtrack
- Stiffly animated cutscenes
I can tell that there was a lot of love put into Clive ‘N’ Wrench, and this is impossible to ignore. It’s an amazing feat to make a game, especially one as complex as this one, but even still, there are many areas where Clive ‘N’ Wrench falls flat. There are moments of greatness, such as in the well-crafted platforming sections, but overall it’s an underwhelming experience with lacklustre animation and a soundtrack that fails to impress.