Clive ‘N’ Wrench review: a throwback to the glory days of 3D platformers

It feels like we’ve definitely hit a renaissance when it comes to large, open 3D platformers. Well, OK, renaissance is probably a bit hyperbolic, but there’s definitely been a resurgence. I think it might be a generational thing; developers are of an age where their childhoods were touched by the likes of Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. I am totally here for it; I really enjoy exploratory platforming, and while the more recent examples (Yooka-Laylee, etc.) don’t really deviate too far from the formula, they do hone in on what makes them fun and fine-tune the experience to match.

Developer Dinosaur Bytes now enters the fray with Clive ‘N’ Wrench, an obvious homage to Rare’s Banjo-Kazooie, this time starring a costume-changing rabbit and his buddy, a literal monkey on his back. The set-up involves travelling through time in a souped-up refrigerator to stop an evil doctor from grabbing all the McGuffins and ruling the world. All you need to know as a player is that it gives the game the opportunity to visit weirder than normal stages with vastly different, and in my opinion more interesting, level designs.

Rather than dabbling in tried-and-tested time-travel thematics, Clive ‘N’ Wrench reaches into a completely different bag of ideas that are curious but interesting because of it. You’ll visit stages you’d kind of expect from a time-travelling caper, like ancient Rome and pyramidal Egypt, but where the game truly shines are places like a Honey I Shrunk the Kids-esque house and early 20th century New Orleans. It goes a long way towards making the game feel less stock standard than its contemporaries, which in turn makes the levels more engaging while you’re hunting down all the doodads within. Clive ‘N’ Wrench eschews the traditional hub structure by using a clever clock design and adding a “mud room” area to explore before getting to the level proper. I like how Clive’s outfit changes instantly to fit into the era as you cross into each zone.

Clive ‘N’ Wrench straddles the line between giving you a lot of opportunities to explore each area for the various collectibles without adding so much that it beats you over the head like a cudgel with a dizzying amount of things to do. It strikes a great balance between having you check everything out without the padding of backtracking and over-collecting. Although the protagonist’s movement is a little kludgy, you’re still in control at all times and feel like getting anywhere is possible under the right circumstances. Assuming its apparent lineage, I was expecting your move set to expand as the adventure went on, but I appreciate the decision to keep it simple and concise throughout. The button layout isn’t always the best, so the thought of adding something else would have been cumbersome.

I hate the part where I say “but”… but there’s a “but.” For as enjoyable as Clive ‘N’ Wrench is for the most part, it is marred by a few technical glitches, bugginess and some overly long load times. These bear mentioning, even though they didn’t really deter me from having a good time… but then there are the boss fights. They’re tough in a frustrating way, because while the aforementioned floatiness to the controls doesn’t hinder the regular platforming much, it becomes readily apparent when you’re trying to be precise in dodging attacks and performing your own. The boss stages all play out in the traditional “three phase” set up, but there isn’t much of a reprieve between rounds and no health pick-ups to help you limp along in your bungling. I’m all for a stiff challenge, but I had to retry so many times that my enthusiasm for seeing the next world was curbed by how discouraging it was to get there.

Even so, once I got stuck into the platforming proper once more, searching for knick-knacks and Easter eggs all the while, I was back to being charmed and excited again. Even with the blemishes, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a wonderful homage to the evolutionary change in platformers from the late 90s/early 00s, and it’s well worth your time if you’re a fan of them like I was – and still am.

Clive ‘N’ Wrench was developed by Dinosaur Bytes and published by NumSkull Games, and it’s available on PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch and PC. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Clive ‘N’ Wrench was provided by Bastion. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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