Sunday, February 10, 2013

Gunman Clive Review

Yesterday while shopping around on the Nintendo eShop  with my 3DS, I happened upon a gameplay video that pretty much sold a new IP to me instantly.  At first glance one might label the game Mega Man in the wild west and with a 1.99 price tag I couldn't pass up the potential for such an idea.

Gunman Clive is the simple story of a gunslinger trying to save his girlfriend from, well, I won't say exactly because that'll ruin the surprise of the later levels.  It may be a cliche trope of games gone by, but for all the elements of the classic platformer Clive pays homage to it feels appropriate.

If you've watched any of the trailers you'll immediately notice the heavy inspiration drawn from the Mega Man series. I would actually deem it appropriate if the game opened with "in the year 18XX" but it would be an insult to make any suggestion that the game was a rip-off.  Yes there are familiar similarities, such as the game only allowing 3 shots of the standard weapon on the screen at a time, or Clive's ability to change the momentum of his jumps, but Clive still moves as his own character. (Mega Man could never duck, and that's something the Blue Bomber can be jealous about).

Weapons vary in the form of enemy drops that give Clive a new weapon to use until he takes damage.  Each has their own path and strength, such as the spreadshot for a wider path of destruction, while the heavy bullets fire slower and in a straight path but do more damage.  Other weapons include heat seeking bullets, a Mario fireball-esque bouncing bullet, and even a laser!

The level design shines as it masterfully blends the task of running and gunning while dealing with stage hazards. Like the classic Mega Man titles, the game teaches the player how to deal with hazards in a controlled situation before throwing them in a life or death encounter with them. For example, when you run into your first encounter with the disappearing and reappearing blocks there is solid ground beneath you to give you time to practice and get used to their pattern before it makes you perform the act over a cliff. This sort of fundamental level design is missing from a lot of modern games today, where instead of encouraging the player to learn the game pauses the action to give them some tutorial text. It's Clive's nod to the classic fundamentals that helps the game feel somehow nostalgic while still delivering a new experience.

The only obstacles I had trouble with were these mushrooms you have to bounce on to reach higher areas later in the game.  Getting Clive to get a full bounce on them felt inconsistent; the timing that worked for me on the first mushroom didn't seem to give me the same results on the next one.  Other than these everything seemed to function as intended and each death was my own fault. I didn't really experience any so called "cheap deaths."

The stages follow a linear path; stage one leads to stage two, followed by stage three, etc, until you reach the end of the game.  Huge bosses that fill the screen await you at the end of each "world" to test your shootin' and dodgin' skills.  You're given as many tries as you need to complete a level, but dieing always sends you back to the very beginning of the current stage.  At the end of the game you'll be presented with a final tally of tries it took you as well as the time it took you to finish. The game is rather short, which is to be expected for this price point.  Experienced platformer players and especially Mega Man players will definitely finish the game in under an hour.  My first play through took only 39 minutes.  That's not to say there isn't enough content to keep you playing.  From the start you can play as either Clive or the would be damsel in distress, Ms. Johnson, which offers a completely different gameplay experience. She walks considerably slower than Clive, but she has an added gliding ability much like Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros 2.  Finishing the game unlocks a secret character for an even harder challenge. There are also multiple difficulty levels available to further test your skills.

Clive's characters and backgrounds are rendered to look like a sketchy wanted poster which gives everything a beautiful hand drawn look to it.  The art may not be colorful, but it captures the wild west atmosphere without question. The animation is fluid and there were no issues with slowdown or any other artifacts that I noticed.

As expected, the music follows the wild west theme as well.  All of the tracks fit each stage appropriately and fully support the games atmosphere, but the western score keeps anything from being truly memorable. The sound effects impress. Explosions are appropriately loud and each of the special weapons has it's own unique effect. Enemy grunts and hit effects make each kill a delight to the ears.

I had a great time playing Clive, the only problem is that the short length of the game will leave you hungry for more in a hurry.  It does well to scratch that retro gaming itch while delivering a new IP.  Lets just hope the game sells well enough to warrant a longer sequel!

Pros:

-Awesome level designs that pay homage to classic platformer series.
-Controls are simple and precise.  Clive does exactly what you want him to do.
-Clever graphics design that presents the world like a "living" wanted poster.
-Multiple difficulty levels and extra characters add to the replay value.
-Cheap sale price at 1.99!

Cons:

-The game is pretty short.
- Depending on your tastes, the music can be pretty forgettable.

Note:  As stated above, this review is for the 3DS version of the game, but it is available on iOS and Android devices. While I'm sure it is pretty much the same game, I'd imagine playing this sort of high action platforming would be better suited to a device with actual buttons.  That's my personal preference at least, coupled with the added 3D effects of Nintendo's handheld I would recommend this as the definitive version to play.

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