Clive ‘N’ Wrench has a monkey on its back. That’s partly intentional – you play this 3D platformer as a humanoid rabbit named Clive, with monkey pal Wrench along for the ride in his backpack. Sadly, the rest is purely metaphorical – a screaming simian of technical issues and bromidic design.
Developer Dinosaur Bytes wears its influences on its sleeve – Clive ‘N’ Wrench is an open love letter to Banjo-Kazooie, right down to its déjà vu introduction where a neighbourhood villain carries out their nefarious scheme as the slacker protagonist snoozes. In this case, the evil Dr. Daucus has nabbed professor Nancy Merricarp’s time travel schematics and is now using them to wreak havoc across the universe.
To stop him, you’re set loose with a time-travelling fridge and plonked down in a busy plaza that serves as the hub for your platforming adventures. Your goal is to hop through a number of worlds, gathering Ancient Stones before Dr. Daucus can nab them all. To progress to new levels, you also need to hoover up thousands of Pocket Watches strewn across the game – if you’ve played Banjo-Kazooie (which Clive ‘N’ Wrench really wants you to do), it’s the same as Rare‘s Note and Jiggy system.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench‘s greatest strength is its level diversity. From wintry peaks and a sun-scorched Western to cobbled Victorian streets, the worlds of Clive ‘N’ Wrench are creative delights that still feature the classics. Yes, there’s a spooky level – platformers always seem to have a spooky level – but there’s also a Little Italy pulled straight from every Scorsese stereotype and a colourful imagining of Ancient Greece, to name a few of the game’s locales.
Each level has heaps of personality, too – the mobster world in question is filled with puns referencing mob flicks and movie stars, while a vinyl parodying Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ sits in an oversized Honey I Shrunk The Kids-style world. Sadly, these worlds are far less fun when you’re actually playing them. Some of this is down to the game’s heaped technical issues: Clive tears and vibrates nauseatingly whenever you try to climb something, and I had to restart a world because trying to grab a ledge permanently froze Clive. Boss fights are another issue – a mix of cluttered attacks and dire frame rates made dodging near-impossible at times, though the fights are often brought to an abrupt end before you realise you’ve won, with janky cutscenes showing your opponent’s demise.
However, the real issue is that protagonists Clive and Wrench don’t feel good to play. A frustratingly slow camera makes it feel like you’re wading through treacle at all times. Constant clipping in smaller zones frequently takes your camera to the eerie fields beyond the map’s constraints, making platforming in smaller areas a nightmare. Combat is equally naff: Clive and Wrench have a very limited roster of moves, and rolling into an enemy to kill them often ends with both parties taking damage. Knock them down, and there’s a good chance its body will gyrate wildly across the map until the end of time, getting in the way and generally being a glitchy nuisance as you try to do other things.
There’s also just not enough to do in these levels, which usually boil down to sniffing out Ancient Stones, hoovering up Pocket Watches, and rounding up lost NPCs. It’s often formulaic, and rarely attempts to shake things up. Visually, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a mixed bag of dated modern-day graphics and old-school horizon low-poly textures, a confusing blend that makes it hard to tell what’s intentional and what’s fallen victim to a lengthy development process. However, one point of the game – a torch-lit jumping puzzle through an Ancient Egyptian tomb, full of traps and dizzying falls – is almost frustrating in how good it is, because nothing else reaches this level of entertainment. Even then, the setpiece was let down by a bug that caused me to respawn at the bottom of the puzzle, rather than the checkpoint I’d just cleared. Even at the best of times, it feels like Clive ‘N’ Wrench can’t go two minutes without stepping on its own toes.
Crucially, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is missing personality. None of the game’s setpiece humour translates to its cast, who interact through slow-crawling dialogue boxes and look like dead-eyed wax figures in cutscenes. Clive ‘N’ Wrench aims to capture the magic of ’90s platforming giants – think Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro, Jak And Daxter – but misses the mark, lacking the charisma that made these titans so popular. Crucially, these influences all had cracking soundtracks – and while Clive ‘N’ Wrench‘s music is perfectly serviceable, it’s buried in a migraine of audio design. At one point, I had to dial down the volume significantly to escape one level’s constant cacophony of music, screaming gulls, neighing horses, and clattering chariots.
Ultimately, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a love letter that’s missing too many words to be legible. Though it’s intended as a homage to the bygone age of platformers, Clive ‘N’ Wrench fails to capture any of the ’90s magic that made them special – instead, it just feels like it was made 25 years ago.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench launches on February 24 for PC, PlayStation, and Nintendo Switch. This review was played on PC.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench‘s few redeeming features are overshadowed by a litany of problems. It’s hard to enjoy a creative platter of worlds when you’re also forced to contend with a mass of technical issues, a bland cast, and an uninspired formula. While the game intentionally invites comparisons to the likes of Banjo-Kazooie, the result isn’t the nostalgia trip it wants to be – it’s a rough miss.
- A brilliant range of settings to explore
- The game’s lengthier jumping sequences are well-executed
- A mess of bugs, glitches and visual issues
- Lifeless characters