Sierra's use of claymation in its classic adventure series and Clay Fighters
were impressive, but it's The Neverhood
that truly defined the claymation via videogame movement of the '90s. Who am I kidding? No one remembers The Neverhood
because of the animation, but because how well the animation ties to a fantastic adventure game and brings what would be a dated 32-bit world into a timeless world made of clay. Yes, these two forms are just as aesthetically pleasing to select crowds and are both the end product of working hands, but The Neverhood
has a personal touch of charm and humor that is often amiss in the medium of video games. The Neverhood
might not have the brainiest puzzles, most captivating story, or prestige of Sierra or Lucasarts -- what it has is a quality and look that is as distinct now as it was in 96'.
In every sense, The Neverhood
takes after PC gaming's biggest success (well, until The Sims
. You start in a world with no backstory, you often navigate through a first person perspective, and you solve puzzles that are designed to hurt your head. The best thing about The Neverhood
is that it plays to Myst
's fanbase while cruelly making fun of them. Not too long after starting the game, you'll find yourself in the Hall of Records. Not only does this location poke fun at the idea of unnecessary backstory for the most dedicated to read, but forces you to walk aimlessly for a good 10 minutes. There is also the fruit tree which forces you to watch a 3 minute clip of Klayman, the protagonist, belching. Thankfully the game doesn't pester you too much with these indulgences. It's as if The Neverhood
is telling you, "You know these games are stupid right? Good. Now have fun."
At 4 hours for experienced adventure fans and, perhaps, 6 for newbs, The Neverhood
is as short as they come. It leaves the game feeling more like a short story despite its lavish production, but it ends right where it feels like it should -- where many video games would stretch on to their own detriment. More than just a new coat of paint, The Neverhood
refines the Myst
-model by making the world less open (converse to most genres, a good adventure game needs this). Most of the game's puzzles are self-contained and fun, but there are a couple that require writing down symbols and backtracking. With an original score and art design, The Neverhood
's gameplay matches its artistic vision when played in small doses.
The worst that can be said of the game is that it may refine Myst
but it hardly solves any of that game's problems. Moving about in a 3D space can be an absolute pain when you need to backtrack. The game compensates halfway through by offering you a teleport system, but even that is still limiting and time-consuming. Even worse, is that the game falls victim to one or two random devices to move forward. Most of the puzzles in the game you look back on and see the logic, but you'll find a couple things that will frustrate you even in hindsight. To the game's credit, there are many puzzles that seem like painful trial-and-error but offer a brainier alternative. They are open to be solved either way, but they often also have a more definite, quicker way to go about. However, the game seems archaic in much of its game design, which is a shame because of just how well it holds up aesthetically.The Neverhood
falls fault to many '90s adventure game issues, but it has so much charm and imagination that even today's games rarely match. The story is minimal but is masterful in its delivery, much like Team ICO's games. The clay world is unlike anything else and the music, while decisively annoying, is also something you won't soon forget. Even though the game only sold about 41,000 units, it was enough for the company to make a platformer semi-sequel called SkullMonkeys
. One could think that the development team really just cared about the world instead of the gameplay, with the mixed reviews SkullMonkeys
received and their absolutely paned BoomBots
. Or, maybe, their heart was in the dying adventure game genre that they felt a need to branch out of because of financial reasons. Not as epic as Grim Fandango
or influential as King's Quest
, The Neverhood
is one of the adventure games that will continue to be lost, but, more importantly, be so rewarding for those who find it.