The Neverhood (1996)
Date: Saturday, April 03 @ 02:26:25 EDT
Topic: Adventure Game Reviews
The Neverhood is a 1996 game by the guy who made Earth Worm Jim. It, single handedly, is proof that the video game industry is in decline as it puts every game out this generation to shame.
Graphics: Technically this is an interactive movie more so than a game since it uses claymation. However, if you can get past that, this game still looks good 15 years later! There is also a lot of care to little details. Everything is clay. The intro is clay. The main menu is made of clay. As is the pointer, and anything you can think of: water, paper, buttons, TVs, the ceiling fan. Where this game really stands out is in its design, and its animation. The world looks like something out of a Tim Burton movie. Doors are slanted. Mouseholes can be stretched to be turned into doors. Walls have bumps in them. Security bots are old CRTs with heads in/on them. The colors are extremely bright, mixing pink in blue in one room, white and grey in another, and the outdoor environments are red and brown and beige and green and...I hope I have driven home the point that this is not Gears of War. Clayman himself moves convincingly, bobbing his torso forward as he does. Also, there seems to be more care then there is in current games. If you are too close to a button, pressing it will cause him to shuffle his feet and get into the proper position, rather than causing him to teleport there. And In true Earthworm Jim fashion, standing still will initiate a myriad of animations.
Sound: The sound is unbelievable. There is a great amount of attention to detail. Walking on clay sounds different from walking in mud, which sounds different than running across dirt. The music is balls to the walls awesome. It's not exactly jock jams work out music however. It's a mix of jazz, opera and acapella. But it does the game service because, as will be seen, the game ties heavily into philosophy and religion. The music is catchy, but never gets repetitive, which is good seeing as it's in the background when you're solving a puzzle for 20 minutes. And literally every room you walk into has its own theme. The dialogue in this game is also top notch. The king of the Neverhood has an extremely benevolent, yet nonetheless omnipotent voice. The tyrant has an extremely devious and sinister voice. The village idiot has a slow cartoony voice. Finally the robot has a low pitched voice.
Story: Except for Willie (village idiot), there are virtually no other characters to interact with. Most of the story is told through these video clips stored in disks which you pick up as you explore through the Neverhood. These clips are narrated by Willie, and they are breathtaking. Furthermore, the disks are not discovered in any order. Kudos to the writers for managing to provide the disks in arbitrary order, but still keeping the story interesting. The exception to this story telling element lies in the Record Hall, called The Neverhood Chronicles. This is an enormous hallway, 38 screens long, full of 7 columns of text. This is essentially the scripture in this game. But don't let that fool you, it is still entertaining. The hallway tells the story of Quater, presumably the only son of God, and his seven children. As you read them, you begin to realize that you lack any and all creativity as these writers put you to shame. Instead of an intro, or a prologue, the hallway has a 'preamble'. The children have zany names such as Ogdilla, Bertbert, Bredbad, Bridabrack, Hiface and Lytle. Finally, the stories span both space and time. And they present profound moral issues. The king of the world you play in, Hoborg, was created by Quater as an experiment to see what would happen if a ruler was supremely benevolent. These walls, however, only provide the back story. As you progress you discover that Hoborg created the Neverhood, but then grew lonely. So he created Klog, thinking Klog would be grateful. His only rule was that Klog never touch his crown (forbidden fruit). Klog gets jealous, steals Hoborg's crown, and imprisons him in a deep sleep. Willie sees this, takes one of Hoborg's life beans and creates you. Willie's only wish is that you set everything right.
Gameplay: The gameplay is exactly like Myst. In the outdoor environments, everything is in the first person view. When inside, it turns into a side scroller, but is still point and click. There are many puzzles in the game to solve, again as in Myst. The puzzles begin as simple tasks such as reordering blocks to form pictures. They then progress to more difficult picture pair memory games, and musical note matching. From there, they take off and enter the realm of impossibility. One game requires you to guide a mouse through a series of mouse holes to get to the wedge of cheese. The trick is to realize that the mouse's nose always points in the direction of the correct hole. However, this is not at all apparent to the lay observer. In another case, a radio that is inactive, can only be activated by back tracking all the way back to your original house, and pulling on a ring. This is in no way obvious. Therefore, the less patient players would probably not like this game (LOL @ Gamespot, Joe Hutsko gave it a 4.9 because he was too queer to finish it).
Very rarely do you get a game which has a team of great animators, or writers, let alone both. It is a shame that if this game was released today it would get blasted for being too difficult, or for not having a multiplayer mode (I'm looking at you GT). The movie for this game is coming out in 2011, so I highly recommend you play this game today.