Rare was a developer that left an incredible mark in the 3D platformer genre. While Nintendo may have established the rules with Super Mario 64, it was Rare’s output that dominated the scene afterward. Classics like Conker’s Bad Fur Day and the Banjo-Kazooie games left an unforgettable impression on gamers ever since.
Inevitably, some of the gamers who grew up playing the games Rare made would become game developers themselves. Like most indie game devs tend to do, some would try to recapture the magic they experienced by throwing their hat into the ring and trying to figure out how Rare did it.
Over the years, there have been many cute, mascot 3D platformers that try to emulate the distinct look and feel of a 90s-era 3D platformer. Cribbing from Rare is especially common, but so few indie developers have come as close as Dinosaur Bytes Studio’s efforts. Making a nostalgia bait game can easily lead to disappointment. How does this time-traveling rabbit and monkey duo fare? Find out in this Clive ‘N’ Wrench review!
Clive ‘N’ Wrench
Developer: Dinosaur Bytes Studio
Publisher: Numskull Games
Platforms: Windows PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)
Release Date: February 23, 2023
Price: $29.99 USD
There are no mistaking Clive ‘N’ Wrench‘s influences. This is a game that proudly wears its inspiration on its sleeve and thankfully has enough imagination of its own to make it stand out. While its premise is as standard as it gets for a mascot 3D platformer, Clive ‘N’ Wrench has enough character to not feel generic.
Clive is a rabbit with a rugged pair of shorts, a yellow cap, and a backpack. You would think he would be sued into oblivion by the current rights-holders of Banjo-Kazooie, but he is more likely to be slapped with a lawsuit by the Nestle corporation. Clive has a striking resemblance to Quicky, the Nesquik bunny. He has more of an uppity and brash personality than the soulless food mascot and is more likable due to his oafish nature.
Wrench, Clive’s little buddy, also resembles a food mascot. He looks like Coco the Cocoa Krispies monkey but is way less obnoxious and is much dumber. Most of the designs of the characters look like mascots one would see on the sides of cereal boxes, frozen kid’s TV dinners, or on the casing for a pack of sugary drinks. It gives Clive ‘N’ Wrench a kitschy 90s charm that tickles nostalgia nerve endings.
Wrench is a slow-witted chimp and serves as Clive’s means to beat foes. He is also swung violently like a helicopter for gliding. Beyond this, Wrench is rarely used for anything else. He does not have the range as Kazooie who could sprint or launch eggs from her throat or anus.
From the start of the game, Clive has access to all of his abilities. He can do all the N64 platformer classic maneuvers; the side jump, long jump, crouch high jump, mid-air hover, etc. Clive doesn’t have to concern himself with unlocking anything and the game is quick to set players loose on exploring 11 worlds to collect tokens and stopwatches.
Every world is literate with crap to collect and it taps into the lizard part of every gamer’s brain to seek and explore. You will want to collect them because the only way to access the stage boss is if Clive has acquired enough arbitrary collectibles. Regretfully, the stages open up linearly and players won’t be able to advance to later stages even if they’ve acquired enough watches and tokens.
The order in which the boys can access the stages may be stifling, but the real fun begins when they are set loose inside. Clive ‘N’ Wrench‘s stages are very imaginative, but with some instances of indie jank.
The overall layouts and designs of the stages are wonderful and are varied with platforms and gimmicks to engage with. Some things appear only once and never again which makes them feel very unique.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is all fun and games until you play it. This was a sound concept on paper but the execution is very half-baked. There are severe inconsistencies with hit detection when attacking and there is an overall lack of polish in the mechanics. It always feels like there is a small chance of an attack not properly connecting.
Compounded with very poor audible feedback, Clive’s abilities don’t have the appropriate crunch. The issue also extends to buggy animation which sometimes fails to work. There will be many instances of Clive sliding along the floor in a standing pose. He will sometimes maintain this position even when jumping and then snap into position for the last few frames.
Physics for objects and enemies also tend to spaz out and go ballistic. Smacking a foe will sometimes make them ragdoll, other times will make them freeze into a standing position. If you are lucky, their models will break into agonizing-looking poses or be launched into the heavens at neck-snapping speeds.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench rarely feels like it is running on all its cylinders and feels more like it is held together with scotch tape and is powered by a hamster on a wheel. Sometimes it’s a sputtering mess with hitching and the sound effects are frequently missing or are too loud.
Dinosaur Bytes Studio knows what N64 Rare-made games look like. The inspiration is clear as day, but they did not apply the same understanding of the concept to the execution. Clive ‘N’ Wrench does not look like an N64 game, but more like how a zoomer thinks an N64 game looked like, but never played anything before PlayStation 3.
The result is a mess of inconsistent texture quality and clashing art assets throughout the entire game. A keen eye might even notice the suspicious-looking store-bought assets that get recycled at every stage. These elements stick out and are more detailed than most of the other pieces of geometry.
3D models and scaling is also wildly incongruent on many levels. In stages like the great pyramid or the fantasy-inspired stages, the models are passable. The stages where there are oversized props that don’t match with the rest in the respective level are where it sticks out like a sore thumb.
Amid all the bugginess and the flaws, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is undeniably charming. It is attractive in a used sock kind of way where you know what you are going to get and it feels good to wear. It isn’t so unpolished that it isn’t playable and its personality and soul manage to shine through.
There are a lot of amusing and bizarre references through the various and sizable worlds that it is hard to not be drawn in. The level design thankfully is also varied and full of hidden areas. At times, Clive ‘N’ Wrench does feel like a Rare game because of the level design- not because of the aesthetics.
When Clive ‘N’ Wrench works, it is possible to get a glimpse of something that is a very close approximation of a quality fifth gen 3D platformer. In its current state, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is rough around the edges and requires patience to contend with its less refined qualities. With more finesse and more time in the oven, this could be a cult classic.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a copy provided by Numskull. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here. Clive ‘N’ Wrench is now available for Windows PC (via Steam), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Nintendo Switch.