Clive 'N' Wrench | Box art

Clive ‘N’ Wrench (PC/PS4/PS5/Switch): Bargain Bin Banjo-Kazooie (Detailed Review)

So, I like 3D collectathon platformers a lot, and this was number nine on my most anticipated games of 2023 list. It did not live up to the hype. Reading some parts of that piece are especially painful after having played through this game all the way. “It DOES look like it nails everything there was to like about games like Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon, and Jak & Daxter…” heheh, how wrong that was. It’s more accurate to say that it nails the look of these games. The actual gameplay is significantly less inspired, and the fact that this was a first attempt shows throughout.

That being said, I don’t think Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a bad game per se, but it’s certainly not “was worth the twelve year wait” good. Hell I wouldn’t even call it “good” in general, but also not bad, as I did have some fun with it. Rather, Clive ‘N” Wrench just feels empty and unfinished. If it weren’t for the fact that it took 12 years to make this, I’d call the game rushed.

Apparently rabbits can stand on air.

If one were to look at the trailer and screenshots for Clive ‘N’ Wrench, one’s first instinct would be to assume great things if they are part of its target audience. This is because Clive ‘N’ Wrench NAILS the aesthetic of late 90s and early 2000s collectathons. The visuals are nice and eye catching, and the music is quite catchy, though not enough that you’ll remember most of it. The most memorable track in the game was what played in the tutorial stage, and that song doesn’t seem to be included in the official release of the soundtrack. Additionally, there are a lot of neat nods to classic collectathon platformers, and even some upcoming indie projects.

It was for this reason that this game made it onto my most anticipated games of 2023 list. Unfortunately, trailers have the habit of leaving out the worst aspects of a game’s design. It reminds me of the Ed Wood bit about suspension of disbelief, where he excuses the inconsistent, immersion breaking errors of Plan 9 while saying “it’s not about the tiny details, it’s about the big picture.” What he fails to take into account is that the tiny details are all a part of the bigger picture, and when you simply assume that the viewer will not notice the tiny details, you tend to let a lot more errors slide.

This reminds me a lot of Clive ‘N’ Wrench because all the pieces of a classic 3D platformer are present, but this game lacks the care and attention to detail that makes games like Banjo-Kazooie special. Rather than having entertaining worlds that are build up through special environments and character dialogue, the worlds often feel like nothing more than random backdrops that all play the same. Instead of slowly unlocking all moves throughout the game and thus having incentive to re-explore older areas, you know every move at the start, meaning there is little sense of progression and accomplishment. There’s also very little in terms of a difficulty curve, as the most difficult boss is one of the first ones you face, and it simply zig zags until you fight the frustrating and tedious penultimate boss, and the pathetically easy final boss.

This is all without any sort of special mini-games, transformations, power ups, or anything that adds variety to the gameplay other than run, jump, and collect shit. On top of this, you will have a ton of immersion breaking errors in terms of game design, such as characters not changing dialogue after you complete the task they assign you, an absence of underwater music occurring when the rest of the game had it up to that point, and background objects not being moveable in some levels. There was even one jarring example where you need to complete a platform challenge to open a door.

So after completing the challenge, it opened the door and I was able to go through, even though I had not talked to the character who opens the door. It turned out that they simply didn’t program a door that blocked the player’s path, and they could walk through it without even completing the challenge. Also, if you re-explore the area, she makes you re-do the challenges to get through the other doors (except the one with no door obviously).

To add to this even further, I didn’t take the chance to screencap this bug back when I played this game, so I decided to quickly load it back up to do so. Unfortunately, I realized that when you leave a world, it doesn’t save which switches you pressed to open doors, so I had to find the switches to open the pyramid doors before I could get inside. Afterwards, I realized how far away that segment I was referring to is, and gave up in frustration. I also remembered that back when I played the game, that the game did not save which enslaved aliens you freed in that level, meaning you needed to find them again. There’s also no form of fast travel to previous locations, which is an unacceptable design decision in a game that’s based around exploring large open worlds.

Everything about Clive ‘N’ Wrench’s design feels less like a coherent game, and more like a mishmash of other much more competent platformers. For example, the hub world consists of a bunch of doors leading to the different worlds. Said hub is clearly based off of Crash Bandicoot 2 and 3. Unfortunately, Dinosaur Bytes forgot that Crash Bandicoot has much more linear levels that weren’t based around exploration and free roaming. Choosing a hub world like that sacrifices the chance to have an engaging, interactive hub world in the same veins as Peach’s Castle or Gruntilda’s Lair, for a reference.

Those two blurbs at the bottom of the magazine really make me want to like this game a lot more.

This can also be seen with the game’s main collectable, the stop watches. In something like Banjo-Kazooie, music notes not only are satisfying to collect, but they are spread out evenly and can be used to show the player where they have and have not been. They were plentiful, but there was a small enough amount that finding them wasn’t agonizing. Clive ‘N’ Wrench, on the other hand, will often have amounts near 1,000 in a single world, and will often be hidden in pots, thus completely defeating the point of using them to chart your progress. The game also gives you a radar that can be used to track down stop watches… which just shows that they knew it would be a pain in the ass to find them, and thus makes one question why this wasn’t change.

I recall when I reviewed Banjo-Kazooie that I made a point of comparing how much less formulaic content it has than Super Mario 64, a game which it clearly intended to improve upon. to save time, I’ll quote that review.

“Given that Super Mario 64 has 15 different worlds excluding the castle, this would mean that 30 of the 105 stars found in the standard world come from these formulaic tasks, which is close to 1/3rd of them. You also have 6 more red coin stages in the castle levels so that means 36 out of 120 stars are found by scrounging for coins. That is over 1/4th of the game!”
“For comparison, Banjo-Kazooie has 9 worlds excluding Spiral Mountain and Grunty’s Lair. Each of these worlds has 10 jiggies and only one is collected by finding the five jinjos (Banjo-Kazooie’s equivalent of red coins) in each world. There are 90 Jiggies found outside of Grunty’s Lair so that means only 1/10th of the main game follows one of these formulaic patterns. Also there are no jinjos in Grunty’s Lair so it’s even less than 10% overall.”

1000 Stop watches in a single world, sounds fun and definitely not tedious and repetitive.

I mention this because Clive ‘N’ Wrench has a TON of filler content in each world. Each world has a total of ten ancient stones to collect. It seems simple enough, but two of those ten stones require you to find some other smaller collectables in the level. With a total of 110 in the main story (There’s a bonus world, which is based off of the test world used in the early stages of development that has five more. Also as an aside, this was pretty cool). This means that 1/5th of the game is basically just “collect smaller items so you can collect a bigger item.”

Now, I get that this is fairly common in a lot of collectathon titles, and that this alone doesn’t make a bad game. Rather, it’s that Clive ‘N’ Wrench’s worlds are bland and not particularly memorable. Clive ‘N’ Wrench is basically what most professional outlets described Yooka-Laylee as; a bland imitator that nails the look of Banjo-Kazooie, but not the quality. 3D plarformers like Banjo-Kazooie rely on a sense of immersion to draw the player into their world. One needs so much more than just shit to collect; you also need to make the surroundings interesting and to make each thing you collect feel like a significant accomplishment.

The fact that this game has secret huskies and literal Easter eggs also makes me wish I liked this game.

There were bits of Clive ‘N’ Wrench where I felt the passion of its developer, and the game was rarely outright frustrating or tedious. There is fun to be had with Clive ‘N’ Wrench, but it just is not particularly memorable. It feels empty and lifeless, which is one of the worst things you could say about a Rareware inspired title. I can recommend that people buy Clive ‘N’ Wrench not because it is good, but rather to support its developer. The willingness to work for twelve years on a passion project in an industry like this needs to be rewarded, and to be honest, I really want to see a sequel that fixes most of these issues.

It’s important to remember that we are comparing a first attempt made mostly by a single person, to something made by some of the most experienced and sought after people in the video game industry. Did it live up to expectations? Of course not, but maybe a future installment will.

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