There’s little argument that the Switch has become one of the top consoles for 3D platforms. From a host of ‘Golden Age’ classics like Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64, to amazing new experiences like Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and brilliant indies like Lunistice, there’s a 3D platformer out there for you. all. With the extremely high bar on Switch already set, it’s only natural to be interested in how the new faces of the genre stack up. Enter Clive ‘N’ Wrench, an indie title that has been in development for over a decade. Despite the initially promising reveal, it’s painful to say that the final release is a disappointing, broken mess that you should stay away from on Switch.
The Clive ‘N’ Wrench story begins with Professor Nancy, a genius scientist who built a time travel machine with a refrigerator in the 1950s. Daucus, Nancy tasks the titular protagonists with traveling through time to retrieve their blueprints from the evil doctor. The plot is a simple excuse to travel through various themed worlds, but it serves well for the type of game it is. It is, however, the execution where the biggest problems with Clive ‘N’ Wrench begin to show.
There’s no disguising the fact that Clive ‘N’ Wrench’s visuals aren’t quite up to standard, at least on Switch. Cutscenes are an ugly mess, with stiff animation, no dialogue, and terrible pacing that makes them hard to look at. Fortunately, during actual gameplay, the visuals improve slightly. Most character models look like possibly intentional homages to the 64-bit era, and it looks acceptable from a distance. However, the world, random objects, and general texture have clearly received far less attention, and these missing aspects often clash with the character models.
The game suffers from regular and lengthy loading screens. There will often be a long wait for a short ten-second cutscene, which leads to another loading screen to get back into the game. Once you’re in the game, it’s more bad news, with constant frame drops and lots of input lag as a result. It’s pretty jarring to go from a smooth frame rate in some areas to a stuttering mess in others. However, with all the other issues here, the framerate seemed like the least of its problems. Combined, it feels like this game, incredibly, really needed more time in the oven.
The gameplay, unfortunately, doesn’t fare much better than the presentation. At its core, Clive ‘N’ Wrench is a collection 3D platformer. There are 11 worlds for you to explore, each with a unique concept behind it. Instead of your standard platform stage themes, you’ll be exploring swampy casinos and prehistoric ice age. Plus, as a nice bonus, there are lots of charming references to other indie platformers like A Hat In Time and Yooka-Laylee. Again, concept-wise, these worlds are incredibly creative, but they lack execution.
A perfect example of this is the ‘Bunny, I Shrunk The Chimp’ level, where Clive and Wrench are shrunk down and tasked with exploring various rooms in a giant house. Despite the great idea, the world is full of questionable level design that focuses too much on realism over fluidity. For example, at one point the game asks you to browse the bookshelves to access a switch on the other side of the room. However, because the shelves are placed so far apart, you’re expected to make very tight and punishing jumps over them, with no floating platforms or ‘safety nets’ to break up the level’s domestic theme. An homage to the relentless platforming challenges of yesteryear? Possibly, but we’re not convinced.
Another frustrating aspect of level design comes from the size of each world. The stages are usually too big for their own good, and most of the time they are so big that they have to be divided into two or three isolated areas separated by black screens. On the house level, for example, that means exploring a kitchen, living room, and bathroom, but accessing each room requires navigating the air vents. This destroys any sense of flow within the world, and makes tracking down all of the game’s many collectibles that much harder.
While at first glance it might seem that the game is heavily based on Banjo-Kazooie, thanks to the way Clive the rabbit carries his monkey friend Wrench in his backpack, in reality Clive ‘N’ Wrench plays much closer to the Spyro series. . Each of the game’s worlds features ten ancient stones to collect, along with hundreds of timers for you to find. Ancient Stones are your main collectible, each with a cute name that should act as a hint as to where they’re hidden. Despite this, the hints are frustratingly vague, and more often than not, you just stumble across them instead of successfully looking for them. There is a clear lack of meaningful quests or tasks or fun gameplay challenges to earn the gems. As for timers, there are 400 scattered across each world, but because of the segmented level design, it’s incredibly difficult to keep track of what you’ve collected and where. Trying to find them all can be more annoying than pleasant. It all feels so arbitrary in a way that the best collectors manage to avoid through clever design, endearing characters, or sheer charm.
With the core gameplay loop and world design having its issues, one would expect the controls to be at least passable. This is unfortunately not the case. Clive and Wrench look like they’re straight out of a very crude Rayman 2 prototype, although instead of having a natural weight and jumping arc, everything feels floaty and imprecise. The duo have a super jump that launches them way too high relative to the level design, a pitiful melee attack that often results in damage from an enemy, and they always feel like they’re sliding on ice. The lack of invincibility frames after being hit means that you can sometimes lose your entire health bar to an enemy who traps you in a corner. The swim controls in particular are annoying, with separate buttons for swimming up and down, overly sensitive turning, and an air gauge that drains too quickly. There’s no getting around it, the controls are just plain bad and could benefit from some significant tweaks.
Audio-wise, the music is harmless but unremarkable. The tracks here are thematically appropriate and aren’t necessarily bad, just forgettable, with a distinctly royalty-free feel. As for the sound effects, there are so few in the game that it’s a little jarring. Those that are there sound as generic as the music.
And the problems don’t stop there. The boss fights are easily some of the worst in any 3D platformer we’ve played. The first boss, for example, has you navigating a circular, icy platform surrounded by five ropes. You need to persuade the boss to throw a pair of scissors at each rope to drop an anchor on his head, then repeat the process three times to win. It sounds like a winning scenario, but because of the terrible controls, the absurd lack of health dips, and the terrible hit detection, this boss fight took almost an hour to complete. And despite how the game initially presents itself, you can’t go to any level of your choosing until you defeat a boss, meaning there’s no way to skip these encounters.
Clive ‘N’ Wrench is not a good game, no way. When the Switch is home to some of the greatest 3D platformers ever made, Clive ‘N’ Wrench stands out for all the wrong reasons. From terrible controls to poor visuals and performance, we’re sorry to say that there’s very little redeemable in-game on Switch. The whole project looks like a glorified demo made for a game design class, rather than a finished project that belongs on store shelves. The attempt is admirable, but after a decade of development, Clive ‘N’ Wrench turned out to be an incredible disappointment. With so many other ways to get your 3D collection platformer fix on Switch, your time and money is better spent elsewhere.