Clive ?N? Wrench review for Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation

Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also on: PC, PS4, PS5
Publisher: Numskull Games
Developer: Dinosaur Bytes Studio
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: E10+

Clive ?N? Wrench is the kind of game you want to see succeed. It?s the work of one developer, Rob Wass, who has spent more than a decade bringing his vision to life. Not only that, his vision is a love letter to late ?90s/early 2000s 3D platformers, and you can see its affection for games like Spyro, Jak & Daxter, and Sly Cooper in every scene. With a backstory like that, it?s hard not to root for the game.

The thing is?it?s not very good. To be sure, Clive ?N? Wrench is far from the worst game I?ve ever played, and there are even some elements that could even be classified as decent, but taken as a whole, there?s really any reason why you?d want to play it apart from rewarding Wass for sticking with his vision for so long. (Which, to be fair, would be a good reason to play it.)

The game?s biggest problem is that it all just feels so pointless. While there?s an official story ? which involves the titular duo trying to stop an evil time-traveling doctor ? too much of Clive ?N? Wrench seems to exist just to ask players to collect things. There are 10,000 stopwatches to collect (not a typo: there are literally ten thousand stopwatches to collect). There are scrolls. There are keys. There are special coins. There are lost anthropomorphized animal children. While the special coins, at least, unlock boss fights, too much of it feels like you?re collecting stuff purely for the sake of collecting it.

Some of the game?s other problems stem from this over-the-top commitment to making you collect junk. The levels are needlessly large and poorly laid out, full of empty spaces that seem to exist only because the game needs more places to put all the stuff you need to collect. Likewise, there are a wide array of vases, boxes and crates scattered everywhere, except only some of them are breakable, so you need to try out nearly all of them to see whether they?ll smash.

Mind you, Clive ?N? Wrench has issues that go beyond just bad or outdated design. Its combat is deeply flawed, too. Enemies have very little spatial awareness, so they usually can?t tell you?re nearby until you?re right on them ? but once you are, they spring into attack and usually take out a chunk of your life bar as they die, since the game?s hitboxes are so finicky that you can?t ever be sure whether your attacks will land or if the enemies will explode from making contact with you. Either way, there are a lot of cheap deaths and health losses here, and not nearly enough ways to regain any health. This is particularly irksome in the somewhat lengthy boss fights, where it?s awfully easy to be drained off your health without any way to heal.

This hit and miss feeling goes far beyond just combat (pardon the pun), and covers pretty much all the actions the game asks you to undertake. Swimming is atrocious, and even once you realize the controls are inverted when you?re underwater you still can?t really move anywhere. Jumping is a little better and more responsive, but you?re still gambling every time you jump that the game won?t just drop you straight down wherever you are. You can also glide from platform to platform, but again, you never quite know when you?ll latch onto a ledge, or when you?ll miss it entirely. To round it all out, every so often, you?ll just glide along the screen frozen, rather than moving like a normal character. It doesn?t happen frequently enough that you can say the game is broken or buggy, but it still happens enough that you can come away with a bit of that impression.

Needless to say, it?s not just the game?s hero whose movements are awkward ? the camera is pretty lousy too. It moves painfully slowly at the best of times, it?s prone to getting stuck behind walls, and if you turn it at certain times you?ll find it breaks through the walls of the game.

Even the game?s performance is nothing to write home about. While I didn?t experience the awful stuttering or crashes I?ve seen reported elsewhere, there were definitely occasional moments where everything got all blurry. It?s also worth noting that the load times are mostly abysmal: there?s a short moment of transition as you travel from the hub world to any of the levels, then another loading screen going from the start of a level into the rest of it.

(Strangely, the only times there aren?t loading screens are when you die in a boss fight, where the fight resets and restarts literally the moment you lose your last slice of health. While it?s nice to not have to wait, it also means you?re being attacked immediately, sometimes before you?ve even had a chance to register that you?ve restarted a fight.)

Even with all these flaws, however, the worst part about Clive ?N? Wrench is that there?s no way it could be recommended, at least not in its current state. As I wrote way back at the start of this review, it?s a one-man passion project, and you hate to criticize something that someone has spent more than a decade working on. But the simple fact is that it?s just not very good, and it?s certainly not something you need to spend your time or money on right now.

Numskull Games provided us with a Clive ?N? Wrench Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: C