Indie developers Second Order have created a rich, colourful and original puzzle game that shines as a technical marvel but forgets to provide the fun – welcome to Claybook.
When I was younger I used to love playing with clay and Play-Doh. The idea of moulding this colourful smelly and sometimes delicious (don’t tell me you’ve never tried it!) material was incredibly exciting and allowed me to use my imagination. The idea that I could now play with clay as an adult without being given a disapproving look was very intriguing to me.
This first thought in my mind when starting up the first puzzle was that this could easily be a centrepiece of a tech demo. The graphics are smooth, the colours are vivid and the intelligent psychics of how the clay moves and shapes around its environment are extraordinary.
You control a lump of clay around a number of different clay based obstacles. This clay world is unique and full of bright colours and styles that remind me a lot of Andy’s Room from Toy Story. It even includes a dead behind the eyes Andy replica who’s disturbing glare follows you around the room like a haunted painting.
The clay can morph into four different shapes that you control to solve each puzzle. This allows the player to fit through certain spaces or shift the clay into a form that may roll more easily than another over the terrain. When your lump moves around the course, the colours attach to the shape as you move, which while not on a Katamari level of awesomeness, is really clever to see. The inclusion of a fluid like clay is impressive and it’s quite relaxing to watch it flow around the level while collecting colours it passes through. There are five chapters that have four different level designs that make up the main campaign. Each level is designed to be completed as quickly as possible. The faster you do this, the more stars you’ll earn and faster the next level is unlocked. I felt like the inclusion of the timed courses meant that I never felt like I could truly stop and take in the unique clay world around me which I would have liked to have done considering the obvious amount of time and effort put into these levels.
The first few levels are quite basic to help you get a feel for the movement of the clay and the different type of objectives you’ll be facing during you relatively short playthrough. While I originally enjoyed learning the different shapes you could use to get through the obstacles I soon realised that there was a distinct lack of variety. The movement of the clay itself while smooth can be incredibly infuriating. It felt a lot lighter than you’d imagine the clay to be and it sometimes felt very unresponsive. Without it feeling like it had any weight to it, I struggled with either gaining too much or not enough momentum quite a lot of the time, which leads me to a clever aspect of the game. It’s rewind function.
The rewind ability allows the player to fix their mistakes such as falling off an obstacle or filling the wrong section with clay but also gives you the ability to create static copies of the clay. This can be used to help reach certain areas by creating a bridge or some stepping-stones. It’s a very clever addition that is very welcome if you are quite heavy handed and it means you won’t have to start the level over every time you make a silly mistake. This also helps due to the poor camera angles that can occur on occasions.
If you complete all of the levels or just want to channel your inner Tony Hart, there is a Clay level editor where you can create your own puzzles. These can then be shared online and you can also play levels designed by others which is a nice feature for those interested in seeing what other peoples imaginations could come up with. It does, however, suffer from a lack of a tutorial and you are forced into trying to create something memorable without and handholding. Claybook is a ‘learn as you play’ game which may cause some younger players or those with a short attention span to be put off.
Being available on the Switch now means you can attack a level or two on the go, which is a great idea due to the pickup and playability. This means you can also create your own clay worlds on the tube ride into work without making a mess or causing a scene.
Unfortunately for Claybook it seems to be a case of style over substance, causing it to feel a little hollow and light on the entertainment factor. With some more levels and some tweaked controls (camera especially), it has the ability to be a solid puzzle game. Oh, and a less frightening child model would be a welcome addition.
*Code kindly provided by the publisher for review*