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Playing Clive ‘N’ Wrench makes us feel like a high school teacher trying to make a school bully turn his life around.
“I keep sticking up for you in the staff room,” they say. “I know deep down you’re a good kid, but you keep letting me down.”
As every hour passes with this game we can tell that, at its core, it’s a passionate, well-intentioned love letter to the ‘90s era of platform games.
However, as every hour passes we also find ourselves becoming more and more infuriated at the countless issues that are presented to us with unacceptable regularity.
The game is the creation of Dinosaur Bytes, which is actually a one-man operation. Developer Rob Wass has spent around 12 years making this game single-handedly from scratch, and his accomplishment in that sense can’t be denied.
Clive (a rabbit) and Wrench (a monkey) have to travel through time and space in an attempt to stop the evil Dr Daucus from finding the Ancient Stones that will give him the power he needs for complete domination.
Players have to make their way through 11 different worlds from a variety of time periods, collecting these Ancient Stones along the way.
The whole thing’s very Super Mario 64 in nature, as the Ancient Stones essentially act like that game’s Stars. Each world has a selection of Ancient Stones, and players have to collect a certain number of them to unlock access to the next boss fight (and then reach the next world by defeating them).
It’s clear that a great deal of attention to detail has been put into some of these worlds, most notably those early on in the game. Indeed, the first area, based on Honey I Shrunk the Kids, has a host of references and wink-wink jokes, and even though they don’t all hit we at least appreciate the intent.
But good intentions will only get you so far, and while we applaud the very fact that Clive ‘N’ Wrench exists – Lord knows we’ll happily campaign for more PS2-like platformers in this day and age – the ambition is sadly let down by the execution.
It may have been 12 years in the making, but Clive ‘N’ Wrench still feels unfinished. For starters, it suffers from that all-too common issue from the era it’s paying homage to – landing jumps can be a nightmare.
Most games these days tend to do their best to make sure players can accurately land where they want to, but there were plenty of moments here where it was so difficult to accurately gauge where our feet were going to hit – and there are no shortage of fiddly platforming-hopping sections to try our patience in this regard.
Some may brush this off as a consequence of replicating the feel of the era, suggesting it’s ‘faithful to a fault’. This may be so, but the game has plenty of other issues that certainly weren’t present in the best ‘90s platformers.
“Some may brush this off as a consequence of replicating the feel of the era, suggesting it’s ‘faithful to a fault’. This may be so, but the game has plenty of other issues that certainly weren’t present in the best ‘90s platformers.”
Combat is hit and miss (quite literally). The player’s main form of attack is a spin move, Crash Bandicoot style, but it feels like sometimes it cleanly hits enemies while other times you take damage, and it’s annoyingly unpredictable. You can also jump on their heads, which involves a similar gamble.
This ‘will it or won’t it’ policy applies to clinging onto the edges of platforms too. Sometimes when you jump and hit an edge you’ll grab onto it as intended, while other times Clive just won’t feel like it and will plummet. It seems that hitting the edge at even the slightest angle is enough to render the effort null and void.
3D platformers of the era often had bad cameras, but this is worse than most. It has a brilliant knack for pointing in the direction you don’t want it to, and while you can rotate the camera manually with the right stick, it turns slower than a tank with no option to increase the speed.
This is particularly infuriating when you know there’s an enemy behind you (or worse, one that fires projectiles) and you have to give them three weeks’ notice to turn and face them.
It’s actually oddly fitting that the game also features a cameo appearance by Trowser, the snake from Playtonic’s Yooka Laylee.
That too was a ‘90s inspired platformer with a camera regularly accused of being – that phrase again – ‘faithful to a fault’, but seeing it represented here only makes it clear that it could have been worse. Compared to this, the camera in Yooka-Laylee may as well have been helmed by Scorcese.
Worse than all of this, however, is that the whole thing just feels so unstable – at least on Switch, we can’t speak for PS4 or PS5 – that it feels like it’s constantly on the brink of another glitch or bug.
We can’t remember the last time a game threw up unintentional issues with such frequency, certainly not one that was deemed complete and worthy of having a price attached to it.
If you think we’re overreacting, here’s a montage of incidents we encountered in just the first couple of hours of gameplay. This isn’t all of them, either – just the ones we remembered to capture on our Switch while playing.
The overall feeling when taken all this into account is – to cite that overused parental cliché – one in which we’re not angry, we’re just disappointed.
There can be no denying the amount of work that’s gone into this game over the years, and that it was all put together by a single developer is a testament to his dedication.
When everything worked like it’s supposed to, we did have a fun time hopping around and using our radar to find the missing clocks we hadn’t collected yet as we tried to 100% each world.
The problem is that the game’s moments of contentment are interrupted far too frequently by a frustrating enemy encounter or boss battle here, an annoying and unfair missed jump there, and constant bugs and glitches everywhere.
“The problem is that the game’s moments of contentment are interrupted far too frequently by a frustrating enemy encounter or boss battle here, an annoying and unfair missed jump there, and constant bugs and glitches everywhere.”
Hardcore devotees of the platforming genre who consider themselves pretty forgiving of things like this may still want to give the game a go. Much like that high school teacher, we know there’s a good game in there and we do really want to stick up for it in the staff room.
Ultimately though, as much as it should be commended that a game developed by one person over 12 years has finally made it to release, we can’t help wondering what an extra year and an extra person could have done to the overall quality of what’s considered the finished product.
Clive 'N' Wrench is game with its heart in the right place, but its myriad issues – its frustrating jumping, its annoying combat, its all too frequent bugs – constantly drag down the experience.
- Includes 11 varied worlds that were clearly a labour of love
- When it works like it's supposed to, the platforming is fun enough
- Throws up bugs and glitches with alarming regularity
- Jumping is frustrating and landing accurately is an exercise in patience
- Attacks are annoyingly inconsistent, often resulting in you taking damage instead