Red Stewart reviews the video game Claybook for Nintendo Switch…
Many of us who couldn’t afford to buy video games back in the day found escapism through other venues. There were those who played sports, those who read, and those who fantasized about being in an imaginary world. And then there were those of us who had access to Play-Doh and other forms of modeling clay.
Developed and published by Second Order, Claybook is a game that aims to bring back that old childhood wonder for those kids who had fun making all sorts of crazy things from the multicolored, mushy compounds. The question is, does it do it well? The short answer is no, not really, due to an entirely different game plan from the devs, but that doesn’t make it bad.
See, contrary to what it may appear as, Claybook isn’t interested in being a sandbox (err claybox?) title- it wants to be something like Super Monkey Ball: a platformer wherein players have to guide a shape through an obstacle course while completing objectives (some main, some side). I won’t lie that I was a little disappointed by the choice- it would’ve been cool to have a video game where you have to design a bunch of items in order to solve puzzles. However, in reviewing what Claybook is about, I can say that its concept isn’t bad, so much as it lacks proper execution.
There is no story to speak of, so it really needed solid gameplay to succeed. You move around with the joystick and have several options: drill forward or underneath, transfer control over to an adjacent clay piece, or rewind time, allowing you to create a shadow piece that can act as a platform (and get you out of holes). It isn’t much compared to the many power-ups that inhabit Super Mario games, and unfortunately it isn’t expanded upon either by the developers. Most of the levels have you hitting checkpoints, filling up holes by cutting open containers of liquid clay, absorbing a certain material, or leaving shadow clones in specific places. And while some of these can make for some cool challenges and puzzles, the tasks do get repetitive. There was also this annoying thing that happened frequently wherein a ball-shaped figure I was operating would go into an arc rotation whenever I tried to dig forward through a wall, as though I was on an invisible ramp. However, I am willing to accept user error for that mishap.
Claybook’s main saving grace is its art style and physics engine. The team at Second Order was evidently fascinated by the texture, look, and feel of Play-Doh, and so they’ve managed to develop a beautiful-looking material that somehow feels as soft, malleable, and playful as its real-life counterpart. But it’s not just the movement: one of the biggest accomplishments is how the colors daub over each other whenever you move through areas with different hues. It truly does feel realistic in its composition and mobility.
Sadly, those compliments don’t extend to the kid in the background. See, Second Order made the strange decision to add this child character that you are technically playing as- he has a controller with a joystick that moves when you move yours (although he doesn’t press any buttons when you do). I say it’s strange because it’s unnecessary. The kid has no impact on Claybook, and the lack of a narrative means that there is no meta-commentary in the game the way The LEGO Movies had with their live action portions.
Regardless, I would have no problem with him if it weren’t for the fact that he seems to be made of the same doughy-material that the clay board is, which makes him come off as very uncanny. Combine this with his scarily large eyes, and you can be sure I worked hard to avoid seeing him in my playthrough.
He doesn’t speak either, meaning the game lacks voice acting, leaving the audio design to fall into two categories: sound effects and music. The SFX was minimal given the conservative gameplay, but what is there is appropriate. Your churning has a nice squish to it, and classic platforming noises hit you whenever you do something progressive like completing a mini-objective or beating an entire level. Second Order could have added some naturalism to the soundscape, like a waterfall tone when you cause a leak in a cylinder containing liquid, but that definitely would’ve been at odds with the graphics.
Music, on the other hand, is severely lacking. I heard the same three or so tunes on repeat, no matter what world I was on. A big disappointment from whoever the composer was.
Having reviewed Claybook for the Nintendo Switch, there is an important caveat worth mentioning, and that is that the game is surprisingly better played when handheld than docked, at least for me. My theory is that this had to do with it not having to render as big a space, though that is up for everyone else to decide.
It took me about 3-4 hours to complete all of Claybook’s stars/worlds, and at $15.00 USD, that falls significantly under my $1.00: 30 minutes gameplay ratio. That being said, Claybook offers a mode where you can create your own courses, giving it a bit of a Mario Maker and Minecraft replayability. Because of this, you also have the option to play other users’ levels, so that can definitely bump up the time spent enjoying it depending on each person’s personal interest.
As such, make the decision to purchase Claybook on your own. It is a platformer that doesn’t live up to its potential and lacks a variety of music; however, it is also gorgeous and feels like you’re using real Play-Doh. So there’s a quid pro quo in that respect.
+Wonderful doughy tactility
-Not much platforming variety
-Creepy kid in the back
Rating – 6/10