Review – Clive ‘N’ Wrench
I’ve said it time and time again that 3D platformers, namely collectathons, are some of my favorite games of all time. I can play the entirety of Banjo-Kazooie and Tooie nearly blindfolded, and will never, ever complain about the sheer amount of collectibles featured in Donkey Kong 64. For a time, it seemed like we were living in a collectathon revival, back when games like Super Mario Odyssey, A Hat in Time, and Yooka-Laylee (don’t at me haters, I love that game) all came out to satiate our nostalgic needs. It seems like that revival was just a fad. It’s been more than years ever since the end of that brief but beautiful era in modern gaming history, and very few, if any collectathons are being released nowadays. Well, with the exception of Clive ‘N’ Wrench.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is the textbook example of a modern 3D collectathon: it’s a love letter to 90’s Rare. It’s clearly visible, from the title, the fact you control a pair of sentient animals, the excellent Rare-esque soundtrack, the (attempts at) British humour… this is clearly a game that was created by someone who grew up loving Banjo-Kazooie and wanted to make a title of his own. I did check the credits and yep, most of the work was done by a single bloke for TEN years. This is someone’s baby and it shows. The developer spent an ungodly amount of time adding as much content and features as possible to his own homage, to the glory days of the Nintendo 64, to mostly positive results.
The game is indeed creative as hell. That can be seen right from the get-go with the theming of its levels: the first one is a homage to Honey I Shrunk the Kids, with the second level being set in Victorian England, and the third one being a mixture between a New Orleans swamp and Prohibition-era Chicago, complete with crocodile mobsters wielding tommy guns. Despite being a borderline one-man project on Unity, every single character in Clive ‘N’ Wrench, from the titular characters to the most generic of NPCs, is impressively well-animated. I am sure a sizeable chunk of this ten-year development cycle was spent in animating these characters alone.
I was even surprised with the sheer amount of platforming skills both Clive and Wrench had at their disposal right at the beginning of the game. They do not acquire a single ability throughout the campaign (granted, a disappointment), but the way I could basically play “the floor is lava” with my stupidly high and long jumps was impressive. It made some platforming sections trivial, but I did not mind that much. There was so much I had to collect throughout Clive ‘N’ Wrench‘s campaign that I was just rejoicing at seeing my number meters grow. Each level had ten amulets, five keys, five level-specific collectables, and tons of clock-shaped thingamajigs to collect in hundreds.
For a while, I was actually mesmerized at the sheer amount of love and care put into the game. Even the slight nods at pop culture icons like the band Queen, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and Don Vito Corleone made me smile when I noticed them. Clive ‘N’ Wrench was really likable. But that doesn’t mean it was particularly good or polished. Here’s the thing with it: it’s flawed. Heavily flawed. Even though it is a game ten years in the making, it’s still rife with issues, some of which being fixable, while others… well, not so much, as they stem from some questionable design choices.
Every good idea I have previously mentioned is tarnished in some way or form by an equally annoying flaw. For instance, while the music is phenomenal, the sound effects were nothing short of terrible. They either sounded cheap, out of place, and sometimes didn’t even show up when needed. To top it off, the gibberish voice acting which was so endearing in Banjo-Kazooie and Yooka-Laylee is just irritating in Clive ‘N’ Wrench. While the character animations are excellent, the game is hampered by an uneven framerate (even on PC!), visuals glitches, and overly realistic post-processing effects, such as complex lighting on a cartoonish game.
For as much as I enjoyed the creativity and the layout of each level, I wasn’t a fan of actually collecting the main macguffins, the amulets. They shouldn’t be so trivial and easy to acquire as they are in Clive ‘N’ Wrench. You can be done with a level in just one sitting, since there’s little incentive to collect all clocks, this game’s equivalent to Mario‘s coins or Banjo‘s notes. With the exception of a handful of level gates, you barely need them after a set amount; after a couple of levels, the main means of unlock new ones is by defeating a boss. And oh boy, there’s another big issue.
I like that Clive ‘N’ Wrench features lots of boss battles. I really do. But man, did they need to be as annoying as they were? At the time of writing, I am also reviewing Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, a mixture between Nioh and Sekiro. You know, soulslikes. Games meant to be infuriatingly hard. I had a harder time with the first boss in Clive ‘N’ Wrench, a Jack the Ripper wannabe, than most of the enemies in Wo Long, and that’s no exaggeration. The mix between confusing strategies, poor collision detection, and the game’s really poor camera system made for some baffling difficulty spikes that showed up from out of nowhere in what was supposedly meant to be a feel-good homage to 3D platformers.
It is an ungodly flawed game in need of some patches, without a doubt. Some of its design choices are questionable, to say the least. Yet, somehow, I still liked Clive ‘N’ Wrench way more than expected. By no means was this up to par with some of the other love letters to the collectathon genre released over the past decade, but its charm and creativity somewhat outweighed its cons. It is the typical case of a single developer’s labor of love which went too far, with way more mechanics and ideas that it should have had. Still, I cannot fault it for its ambition. It’s a pretty good foundation for what could potentially become a neat little franchise. Also, a nice little collectathon to satiate my nostalgic needs for the time being.
Colorful and varied visuals. I was impressed with the quality of the animations, but the uneven framerate, visual glitches and overly realistic (for a cartoonish game) post-processing effects left a lot to be desired.
Basic 3D platforming controls hampered by a really poor camera system and a metric ton of jank. Granted, you can get used to the latter a bit.
The soundtrack is excellent. Rareware levels of good. The sound effects, on the other hand, are really bad.
Fun Factor: 7.5
It is an ungodly unpolished game, but at the end of the day, I did enjoy it way more than expected. It’s charming, it has some really unique ideas, and while it’s filled to the brim with issues, the pros somewhat managed to outweigh the cons.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Intel i7-12700H, 16GB RAM, RTX 3060 6GB.
A copy of Clive ‘N’ Wrench was provided by the publisher.