A pastiche of Honey I Shrunk the Kids serves as the opening world for this jolly time-traveling platformer. It isn’t long until our titular heroes – an adventure-seeking rabbit and his dependable chimpanzee chum – stumble across a shelf full of supersized video games. Platformers, specifically, with such comical names as Plonker’s Bad Breath Day, Monkey Outbreak, and Bongo-Vuvuzela. While they’re obviously here to raise a chuckle and set the tone, it’s also safe to assume their real-life counterparts each influenced Clive ‘N’ Wrench in some way, right down to its conception.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is the very definition of a passion project. Rob Wass – an ex-Rockstar employee, credited for designing PS2-era GTA towns and cities – has spent over ten years creating and finetuning this platformer, being its sole director, programmer, animator, and level designer – amongst any other roles that need filling. A gravestone in the horror world even jokes “RIP Rob’s Youth.”
This timeframe puts its conception at around 2011; the tail end of the PS3/360 generation, and a good five years before the Switch’s reveal. Even the Wii U wasn’t out at this point, still a year away.
With this in mind, it is easy to understand why it isn’t exactly the freshest-looking of titles. While calling it ugly is far off the mark – aside perhaps for the deep south swamp world, with its unappealing mustard yellow fog – it does have a distinct early last-gen vibe present. The opening stages are oddly barren and boxy, while the later worlds benefit from a more proficient use of weather and lighting effects – leaving us to assume levels were created in the order they’re played, with Wass becoming more familiar with the Unity engine as development progressed.
The good news is that even on a base PS4, it runs like greased lightning. It’s the complete opposite scenario of Cyberpunk 2097 – where development was so prolonged that the tech it was originally intended for was no longer capable of meeting the final product’s demands. Score one to Clive.
Like a lot of other solo projects, a few personal touches and references have crept in, such as photos and significant dates hidden within the environments. All of this serves to give Clive ‘N’ Wrench a humble feel, with telling signs throughout that someone pour their heart and soul into it.
The lengthy development period also clearly allowed plenty of time to perfect the basics. Clive is a breeze to control, being both responsive and nimble. He can not only jump and double-jump, but also perform a charged jump from a crouching position, making it possible to reach higher areas effortlessly. Running on all-fours quickens backtracking – also being vital during races – and Wrench can be used as a ‘chimp chopper’ to cover large areas with speed, grace, and precision.
Combat, however, is merely functionary. Clive’s main attack sees Wrench swung around like a melee weapon, and no new attacks or upgrades are introduced during the game’s 8-10 hour duration. Regardless of size, every enemy can be defeated with a single whack, so it’s vital to get the first hit in. This essentially amounts to bashing the attack button the moment an enemy is alerted to your presence, with some found standing stationary on the lookout and others casually patrolling. There’s no skill involved; sometimes you’ll get the first hit in, and other times you’ll take damage. Thankfully, Clive can withstand six hits before snuffing it, and most enemies leave health tokens (slices of cake) behind. It was only during boss battles that I felt the need to watch the health bar.
The structure is far sounder, if a little contrived and prone to becoming predictable. A small circular hub world, presumably intended to resemble a clock face, features doorways to each of the ten worlds – along with the tutorial room. Worlds must be completed in a set order, requiring a certain amount of ancient stones – of which there are ten in each location to find, each with a cryptic clue – to access. Each door then leads to a small, vertical slice-style, hub where you’ll find doorways to both the main world and the boss. Once the boss has been beaten, the next world unlocks.
There’s a time-traveling theme, with our heroes and their tech-savvy pal Nancy visiting different time periods (Ancient China and Egypt, Victorian London, Prehistoric, Wild West, etc) in their ‘50s style refrigerator to stop an evil scientist and his henchwoman. One nice touch is that Clive and Wrench gain new costumes for each world, including a Santa hat for the dinosaur-filled ice age. Christmas and dinosaurs? Perhaps Clive’s time-travel device needs retuning.
In addition to ten ancient stones, each world also features five keys, a scroll, and a world-dependant fetch quest to complete – usually of the ‘find five (or ten) hidden items’ variety. This formula becomes a little tired as the adventure draws to a close. The level design is at least consistently good – worlds are neither cramped nor sprawling, being perfectly sized – and each is easily distinguishable from the last. Most have a mix of indoor and outdoor locations, with their own music, and there’s a mixture of puzzles, races, and challenges to partake in. Nothing outstandingly original, but they’re fun bite-sized challenges to overcome nevertheless.
Generally, it took me around an hour to complete each world, usually finding just enough collectables to progress to the boss. That’s to say, progression is quite swift. If you’re missing a single fetch quest component, you may have to backtrack or – in some instances – reach the highest point and closely look for any collectables glistening in the distance. Some levels loop, while others lead you to the refrigerator, ready to return to the hub.
It’s the boss battles that house the most surprises, with only a few being of the traditional learn-their-attack-patterns variety. Some battles aren’t battles at all, but rather shorter and linear platforming stages or larger scale challenges such as a labyrinth to escape. The Wild West world ends with a timed runaway train mission, which I found tricky – for the wrong reasons. It’s very easy to fall down the gaps between carriages or be killed mid-jump by an unavoidable projectile.
The boss battles also highlight a few rough edges, suggesting these were far trickier to program than the standard platforming fare. They can end abruptly – the second Clive’s last health point is lost a loading screen instantly appears. Often it isn’t even clear what hit you, or why you took damage. One boss battle ended in mere seconds, and I have no idea why. One moment I was running down a corridor, the next a cut-scene was playing.
Speaking of consistency, good old British humour is present throughout. Lots of puns, such as shop signs with amusing names, or stone location clues that use wordplay. Cut-scenes feature humour too, with Clive and Wrench often rolling their eyes or generally looking unimpressed after a boss makes their dramatic entrance. The trophies are fun to unlock too, again being vastly pun-oriented.
And ultimately, it’s the humour and the game’s well-intentioned nature that carries the experience over the occasional bump and rough patch. It’s perhaps ironic that a game based around time travel feels trapped in the past. This is a game with heart and soul; one that’s incredibly eager to please. If you were weaned on PSone and PS2-era platforming classics, you’ll dig what this rabbit has to offer – providing you aren’t expecting current-gen polish and sheen.
Developed by Dinosaur Bytes and published by Numskull Games, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is out Feb 24th on PS5, PS4, Switch and PC. A physical release is available for consoles.