Someone much smarter than I once said “It’s important to make a good first impression”. It’s a shame then that the long awaited 3D platformer Clive ‘N’ Wrench from developer Dinosaur Bytes makes such a poor initial showing of itself. When starting a new game, you’re presented with an unvoiced and unfocused cut scene that drags on for too long and needs far too much inference to understand.
You’re then unceremoniously dumped into the Clive ‘N’ Wrench hub world from where the rest of the game (literally) spokes out from. There’s a tutorial, but you’ve got to turn around and access it. Even then, you might find yourself frustrated by the unclear directions you’re given and the method in which they’re delivered.
The opening 20 minuets are undoubtedly the lowest point of Clive ‘N’ Wrench. From there on out, the game does nothing but improve. Like an amalgamation of the best platformers from the 90’s, this game channels little bits of Spyro and Crash bandicoot, and a whole lot of Banjo-Kazooie, into a quality platformer that’s brimming with passion for the genre.
After you start playing, you’ll start to come across characters that you can talk to with a press of the triangle button. It’s here where you’ll start to piece together the loose plot that strings Clive ‘N’ Wrench along. The nefarious Dr. Daucus, with assistance from his second in command General Olga Chestycough, has stolen a time travel device from the scientist Nancy Merricarp.
Using it, Daucus has travelled back to 11 different time zones to collect ancient stones that he thinks will grant him great power. Turning to her cousin Clive and her apprentice Wrench for help, Nancy tasks her friends to use a time travelling refrigerator to head back to the time zones that Dr. Daucus has messed up, collect the stones and defeat his generals.
The narrative of Clive ‘n’ Wrench doesn’t progress much further than that initial McGuffin. The story informs the objectives of each level, but there’s little to no development beyond that. There’s regular hints at something deeper, something more coherent to Dr. Daucus’ plan but it never really materialises. It’s very old school in that regard, setting a purpose and then simply letting you play. Instead, the collectathon gameplay of this game does that talking.
A Bunny Hop, Skip & A Jump
Accessed via a central hub, the core of Clive ‘N’ Wrench is broken down into 11 distinct time zones (12 if you include the tutorial area). Each zone is split into two different levels – one free form, open level and a boss level that accompanies it.
The former is where you’ll spend most of your time with Clive ‘N’ Wrench’s content. While they all have their own unique aspects, they all feel reminiscent of the free-to-explore levels from the N64 genre heydays like Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64. They all have a start location and an end goal (the time travelling refrigerator). Between those two points, you’re free to parkour, glide, hit and backtrack your way to the plethora of collectables that are hidden around them.
These levels do an excellent job of balancing believability in location with fun pathways and jaunts that accommodate the movement and abilities of Clive and Wrench. The pair move in a way that feels like a cross sections between Spyro, Banjo and Ratchet & Clank. There’s a lovely precision to movement when moving at normal speed. By holding down L1, Clive powers into a gallop, moving much quicker but losing a little of that precision. When in the air after jumping or double jumping, the pair can glide as Clive spins Wrench around like a helicopter blade – the pleasant absurdity of this never wears off.
In each of the levels, hundreds of multicoloured pocket watches act as both collectables (with a set number in each level), as well as a guide. Like the rings you find in the Sonic games, the trails of the pocket watches can lead you to the more important collectables – the ancient stones that block progress if you’ve not collected enough of them. There’s 10 of those in each of the free form levels to collect.
A Stone’s Throw Away
Rooting out and collecting these stones are the most enjoyable element of Clive ‘N’ Wrench. There’s a few persistent hiding locations across every level where you will find them – locked away behind a safe, being carried by a racing rabbit doing laps, as a reward for helping an NPC find a level-specific collectable – but there are unique aspects to each time zone.
For example, in the Halloween themed zone some of the stones are hidden away on islands that require a glide across massive hazard pits. In the same level, there is the one and only block pushing puzzle in the entire game. The pirate themed level features a section where you’ll be firing a cannon to free someone from a cliffside prison in order to collect a stone. In a hand full of the levels, there are races that test your traversal speed across the map. Each and every level has their own unique quests and hiding spots that house the 10 ancient stones. The way that Clive ‘N’ Wrench is designed keeps this quest fresh and surprising from start to finish.
Accompanying the free form levels is a much more linear boss battle tied to each time zone. Each is unique, offering up their own challenge as you face off against the forces of the lead villain from the zone.
There’s quite an interesting twist here – you never face off against the villain themselves in combat. Instead of facing them head on, you’ve got to exploit their weakness or simply defeat their forces. For example, when facing off against a vampire boss, you run around a circular platform that surrounds him, tempting him to cut the ropes holding up a chandelier with his projectiles. In another boss battle, you’ve simply got to survive an absolute barrage of attacks and minions that descend upon you. A stand out highlight is a boss level that’s a direct riff on the Boulder Dash levels from Crash Bandicoot and another that’s inspired by the Crash formula.
While they’re all at least modestly exciting, the quality of these boss battles varies greatly and they don’t features a linear difficulty increase. Some of the boss levels struggle to differentiate themselves from the normal levels and they feel like they lose something by becoming more linear and restrictive versions of the open versions.
Clive ‘n’ Wrench-ed?
There’s a few other issues with Clive ‘N’ Wrench too that are worth mentioning. The first is the enemy AI. Around each level will be a number of themed foes that will attempt to vanquish the titular heroes. The protagonist pair can reply in turn by hitting them with a spinning attack, or by jumping on their heads.
The issue here is that the AI of these enemies is very one note. While the enemies all have their own visual style, they each use one of two tactics throughout – rush at Clive ‘n’ Wrench directly to attack on sight, or get close enough to fire a projectile at them and shoot repeatedly. Because of this, there’s very little challenge from your standard enemies unless they close in on you in numbers. To give the game its credit, this does help the title retain the 90’s charm that it’s going for, but compared to other modern day titles, it feels a little lacklustre.
Then there’s a lack of polish around some of the game. When indoors, if the camera passes through a wall, the detail of the environment will disappear. It’s only for a split second, but when you’re trying to pull off some intricate platforming, this can be quite jarring. In a game that otherwise looks really quite pretty at times on the PS5, aside from some repetitive textures, these small visuals bugs are a negligible blemish.
Clive can also hang, then climb from most ledges in the game – but not all of them. There’s no identifying features that distinguish where climbing is possible, so there are times when you’ll try to jump to a ledge only to fall into a hazard below. This can obviously be frustrating. Thankfully Clive ‘n’ Wrench has a decent checkpoint system that doesn’t rely on lives, so failure is only ever temporary and you wont ever see a full ‘Game Over’ screen.
A Hoppy Ending
While Clive ‘n’ Wrench has its issues, its overriding charm and sense of fun make up for any irritation they cause. The game is littered with gags and pop culture references that are enough to crack a smile, and little easter eggs (literally, at times) for those that go looking for them. From a Lara Croft parody to the puntastic name of each time zone, the game has a cheeky sense of humour that shines through.
It has to be said too that despite some of the time zone themes being established tropes of the genre, there’s a few true original eras contained within. A combined pre-historic and Christmas themed zone is a stand out, but the Cajun Mob Bog era which combines 1930’s mob shenanigans with a bayou-esque swamp area is also of note.
More than anything though, there’s a real feeling of passion for 3D platformers that has gone into the making of Clive ‘n’ Wrench and you can sense it throughout. There’s nods to all of the classics here, whether it be via game design, lines of dialogue or even a cameo (hello Yooka Laylee). I know it’s a little trite to say in 2023, but Clive ‘n’ Wrench really is ‘a love letter’ to the giants of 3D platforming that came before it. While it’s unlikely that it’ll be joining them in the annals of the genre’s greats, it’s a fitting tribute to them.
While it has its issues, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a charming, cheeky and fun 3D platformer that pays homage to the greats that came before it. It doesn’t even attempt to innovate, instead attempting to replicating aspects of the 90’s classics with varying degrees of success. If you’ve got fond memories of Banjo-Kazooie, this one’s aimed at you.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is available now on PlayStation 4 & 5 (reviewed on latter), Nintendo Switch and PC via Steam,
Developer: Dinosaur Bytes
Publisher: Numskull Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional code from the publisher. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.