Lair of the Clockwork God is most likely going to be the best game I play this year. It’s absolutely outstanding and you absolutely should play it.
There. That’s the review.
*sigh* Fine. Look, I can’t actually tell you much about this game. To describe why this game is instantly my Game Of The Year 2020™ would be to ruin far too much of it. To actually go in depth with how the mechanics work, how the plot develops, what moves unlock and all that good stuff would be, eye em oh, catastrophic to your enjoyment of it.
On paper, Lair of the Clockwork God sounds an unlikely prospect. To all intents and purposes it’s a platform point and click adventure game. It’s a platform game, with significant point and click elements. It’s literally as the description says.
The two characters, Ben and Dan, have fundamentally different skill sets; Dan is a Platformer. He shuns exposition and the need to examine everything he sees and lives for the thrill of running, jumping high and crushing creatures beneath his boot heels on the way back down. Ben, however, is an Adventurer. Every examined object is a potential plot driver, every item just lying around is waiting to be picked up and stashed in his bindle, or combined (*cough* crafted) and used and every character is to be interacted with and interrogated.
On a mechanical level, both parts work in tandem better than they should. At any point you can switch between either Ben or Dan to fulfil the needs of the puzzle or level at hand. Ben cannot, and will not, jump. He handles all dialogue between himself and Dan and NPCs in the game, as well as all mechanical interactions with levers and items and so forth. Dan can’t pick up items, move levers, or interact with NPCs. He can push crates and stand on the massive buttons that are littered around, jump places Ben can’t reach and can acquire other useful skills as the game progresses.
I love the art style of this game. Ben and Dan have distinct, chunky silhouettes, the level colour palettes are wide ranging and it would do a disservice to call any part of the aesthetic retro. The soundtrack is also marvellous, with the music paying homage to specific games and series to match the theme of the puzzle or area, and just generally being all round splendid.
The real star of this game though, is the writing. The narrative, underlying themes and dialogue are fantastic. It’s not an exaggeration to say I found it frequently hilarious. Do you know how hard it is to find something in any entertainment medium that makes me laugh out loud these days? Y’know rather than chuckle, or snicker, or smile and just think “I am amused by this?” I don’t consider myself a miserablist by any stretch of the imagination, I just haven’t seen anything that made me laugh as hard as this did in a very long time. As frequently as it did too.
And not just with the dialogue interaction between the characters; puzzle solutions often made me burst out laughing. This game is so fucking clever, man. In all senses of the word. It doesn’t treat the player like an idiot, it gives you just enough information to make those links that need to be made and does it often in ways that require you to think outside the box, or maybe just look at it sideways a little.
At no point did I feel the need to reach for Google and search out the answer to anything. Because of the way the puzzles and levels are laid out, everything you need to answer whatever it is that’s blocking you is within your grasp. I hate to use superlatives like ‘fiendish’ (and ‘superlative’, to be honest) but some of the puzzles in this game truly are. They never go beyond an initial light frustration where you think you’ve missed something and then you have a lightbulb moment, solve it and you feel like you should be high fiving yourself. They’re never deliberately obtuse for the sake of making the game difficult.
If I had to pick fault with this game at all, I think the aforementioned technical wobbles with the switch version is the worst offender. The bug that brought the random piece of dialogue back on screen almost ruined an incredibly poignant moment in the game. Although the fact that this game actually managed to balance comedy and poinginency in a very real way should be thoroughly commended.
Also the controls feel a little clunky when you’re looking for the right ability, doing inventory management or switching character, which isn’t helped by the Nintendo convention of having X and Y, and B and A reversed (in the correct way, some would say. But that’s an argument for another day).
And maybe once or twice I found the solution to a puzzle before I knew which puzzle I was supposed to be solving.
But those are nitpicks, really. I genuinely cannot vomit out how brilliant I think this game is. It has messages without being preachy. It has wonderfully vulgar comedy that stays (just) the right side of being crass. It’s knowing and self deprecating without being trite. It goes directions you wouldn’t expect from a platform point and click adventure.
It’s rare that something comes along that makes me want to scream “YOU SHOULD PLAY THIS GAME” at all and sundry until their ears bleed (or until the police show up), because nothing can be everything to everyone. But with Lair of the Clockwork God does make me want to, because you absolutely bloody well should.