Quick Review: Claybook offers an initially intriguing clay-physics puzzle platformer for the Nintendo Switch, that ultimately can’t quite hold the player’s attention.
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Developed by Second Order
Nintendo Switch Release Date: March 12, 2019
Let’s preface this review by saying that Claybook is a neat idea.
It’s a puzzle platformer game where the player must move a ball(or cube, disc, duck, or other shape) made out of clay to different objectives or to solve puzzles on a small level also made out of clay. Some shapes that the player controls even have special abilities, like a bomb shape that repels clay and a magnet that attracts.
Clay physics is not a phrase that I have ever thought of or I ever intended to think about in my life, but with Claybook, here we are. Understanding the physics of the game is paramount to enjoying it, and that can take some time.
I don’t think the game has that initial thing needed to grab the player’s attention and to hold it for long periods of time. My play sessions consisted of short runs, a level here, a level there. And come to think of it, that’s a perfect fit for the Switch, where I think this game might find moderate success. But in general, the gameplay became stale quickly and didn’t encourage me to try again after completing a level.
Let’s talk about the aforementioned Clay physics. The levels made out of clay really do act, I imagine, as clay might act when interacting with more clay. The shape that the player controls picks up remnants of other color clay as it travels, a nice touch, and the weight of the clay shape will slightly eat away at the level as you traverse it. If your shape falls a large enough distance it will also compress your clay shape and distort it for a short time. These clay physics of the game are actually done quite well, and if there is an endearing quality of the game, this is it.
There are stories and chapters which act as the levels in the game that kind of make the game feel like a storybook, but not quite in a cohesive way. The game takes place in a child’s bedroom on a square table, so you can see some toys and the child’s bed off in the distance, as well as the young child himself. He is watching intently and using a joystick, so I suppose that’s us as the player, playing with the clay.
There are 20 pre-made levels which consist of the main game. New chapters and stories unlock as players complete the levels, and depending on how successful they are. When you complete a level, you will be given a grade, anywhere from 1 star to 3 stars. So there are 60 possible stars needed to 100% the game. The more stars you get, the higher score you will receive, and the quicker the next levels unlock.
If you want to get more out of the game beyond this, there is a level creator mode, where you can build your own chapters and your own story. I entered the mode just to check it out and I was pretty overwhelmed to be honest. That’s not to say it won’t be utilized by some people, but I could tell right away that it would not be something I personally would use.
These levels can be uploaded to the Community Creations server and be played. I played one or two that were available, so there must be some form of cross play done here, and after completing a level you can up vote or downvote to increase visibility. The ones I played were very simple, I would actually be curious to see the types of creations people come up with once the game releases on the Switch. Right now, it seems like a mode that was not utilized by many people on the platforms where the game has previously been released.
Back to the main mode. Moving around the levels consists of using thumbsticks to change the direction and the camera angle. You’ll go up, down, and across all manner of ramps and stairs and crosswalks in an attempt to get to your next objective. Objectives include filling tanks with clay, or using ZR to “eat” chocolate pieces with your shape, getting to the next waypoint, or leaving behind a particular shape in a certain spot. Fulfilling these objectives unlocks the exit of the level, which happens when 50% of the objectives are fulfilled. And if you want to go for a high score and reach the top of the online leader boards, you’ll want to go for 100% completion while doing it as fast as you can.
Traversing the stages is not always the easiest task, but luckily the game has a rewind function, one that you will want to get used to using if you are prone to making mistakes. The rewind always leaves behind a solid shape of clay of whatever shape you are using. You can use this to your advantage to get across gaps or to build steps of sorts to get out of pits or to higher levels. This function does work, and I can see Second Orders vision for its use, but it’s a little difficult to get the hang of.
Now, I think I ought to touch on the camera in the game. I really didnt enjoy the camera, and I feel like it just isn’t very intuitive. There were many times where I struggled just to get the proper view to help me get where I needed to go. There are many times where the camera goes through and inside objects and that can be very distracting. My daughter, who is 8 and is what I would call an advanced video game player for her age, gave the game a shot during our time with it. She gave up very quickly because of the camera.
To touch on the soundtrack, I think Second Order did a good job, but there isn’t very much variety. The orchestrated soundtrack is fun and whimsical, transporting the player to better, simpler times. There isn’t much variance, but in general the soundtrack accomplishes the task of making the player feel good while playing.
Claybook does some interesting things with clay that behaves like real clay, and that really is a unique thing I have never seen before. But once that initial charm wears off, ultimately I think the gameplay just isn’t that good. The camera inhibits gameplay a bit too often, and after finishing my playthrough for this review, I have had no real desire to go back to improve my times or scores. So while my initial playthrough was at times fun and entertaining, replay-ability might be an issue for some.
Still, I think the game could find an audience, especially for those looking for a unique puzzle platformer with a custom level builder. Claybook could scratch that itch. But for most, it will likely be a game you play through once and never think about again.
Nintendo Nation is Indifferent.
Translation: The game is fine, but won’t move the needle for most gamers.