Clive ‘N’ Wrench review: An ode to the golden age of 3D platformers
This tribute to Banjo, Spyro, Jak and Ratchet is everything you’d want it to be.
When you make an homage, or a pastiche, you run the risk of appealing solely to a certain generation. But if you want newcomers to love it too, you’ll need to transcend the nostalgia with actual innovation.
Luckily, Numskull Games’ Clive ‘N’ Wrench manages to do this. With challenging gameplay, inspired aesthetics, and a wicked sense of humour that courses through the whole thing, this back-to-basics title creates freshness out of simplicity.
As we at RadioTimes.com come from the generation of 3D platformers, we’ll try to remove the nostalgia goggles for our Clive ‘N’ Wrench review and remain objective. However, fans of the golden age of 3D platformers will feel particularly catered for every time they cross the word “checkpoint”.
The zany characters and humour remind us of Gex and Crash, and the familiar time travel setting conjures off-the-wall realms: aliens in ancient Egypt, voodoo-gangsters in a swamp, toxic waste in Victorian London. A lot of the PS1 platformers had a time travel themes: Crash 3: Warped, Bugs Bunny: Lost in Time, Ape Escape.
It’s a nifty means of using lore to create a variety of disparate locations, and Clive ‘n’ Wrench takes it to another level. Also, their time machine is a 1950s fridge-freezer – a cool flourish that adds to the game’s plethora of pop culture motifs.
Speaking of the lore... an anthropomorphic rabbit called Professor Nancy Mericarp, scientific genius and furry icon in the making, has been spending her years working on a time machine. One morning she wakes to find it’s been stolen by the evil Dr Daucus.
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To help her thwart his evil plans, her cousin and apprentice – the titular Clive and Wrench respectively – team up to travel through time themselves in pursuit. Clive, of course, is also a rabbit, and Wrench is a small monkey who sits on Clive’s back.
We take control of the two of them as they traverse 3D environments. As well as the usual controls – jump, double-jump, sprint – we can extend our jumps by spinning Wrench above our head like a helicopter rotor (he doesn’t seem to mind). This lets us glide rather than fly, so the timing of our jumps is essential. It starts off easy, but the levels soon get tough.
A stand-out sequence takes place in the aforementioned Egyptian stage. After saving all the aliens on the map (each stage has cute creatures to save), an underground tomb is unlocked which will test your precision and patience.
From moving blocks and wheels to timed switches, it took us a few tries, and gave us a few tantrums, but getting to the end resulted in the best of endorphin rushes.
As well as the platforming, fighting enemies is a big part of the gameplay; from gun-toting mobsters to toy robots to the giant bosses. The first boss is fought after the Victorian London level, and he’s a Jack the Ripper-cum-Sweeney Todd type who throws scissors.
We have to use his chopping attacks against him by leading his attacks towards ropes, the chopping of which results in a giant mallet crashing on our foe’s head. All the while we have to dodge the attacks ourselves, jump off the falling platforms, and beat the regular enemies who also roam the environment. It’s yet another example of how the game’s simple gameplay creates fresh challenges.
These challenges get better as the game goes on, so we urge you to stick with it if you’re unsure at the start. We felt a bit underwhelmed to begin with, because there is a bit of jank; music and sound effects sometimes cuts out, and objects in the environment occasionally clip away.
We hasten to add that we played the PS4 version, and there may yet be a patch to fix this. Either way, the more we played, the less these issues bothered us – they’re only really noticeable when you’re not engaged, i.e. the tutorial.
We haven’t completely finished it yet, but we can’t wait to carry on. It’s one of those games that doesn’t take itself seriously and is all the better for that. Much like all the old 3D platformers, come to think of it. Clive ‘N’ Wrench doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it does remind us that games don’t have to. Sometimes they just need to have character.
Certain puzzles require solving riddles first, in a cheesiness reminiscent of Uncharted. And some objectives have tongue-in-cheek names that reflect the environment – humour that reminds us of the objective names in the old school Tony Hawk titles.
If you grew up with Banjo, Crash, and Spyro, then Clive ‘N’ Wrench was made for you. It will remind you why you fell in love with games. Even if you didn’t, though, you might find something in the simplicity. Mastering the controls, exploring the worlds, fighting the bosses, it’s rewarding, and you’ll have a smile on your face the whole time.
Clive 'N' Wrench launches 24th February 2023 for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5 and PC via Steam. You can order the game on Amazon or buy it directly on your device.
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