Choosing to make a game that parodies other games is foolhardy. On Xbox we’ve seen a fair number over the years – Deadpool, Eat Lead: The Return of Matt Hazard, The Simpsons Game, Retro City Rampage – and they’ve all fallen into similar traps: they don’t rise above the games that they’re parodying. No one wants to be trapped in a game that keeps highlighting its own faults.
If anyone was going to pull it off it was going to be Size Five Games (previously Zombie Cow games) and their creative forces, Dan Marshall and Ben Ward. Critically – if not financially – successful at pulling it off on PC (with Ben There, Done That and Time, Gentlemen, Please) they have brought Lair of the Clockwork God, the third in their point-and-click trilogy to Xbox One. And rather than take pot shots at one game genre, they’re gunning for two – the platformer and the point-and-click. Of course, it also means some splash funnies aimed at the broader games industry. So, do they pull it off?
In my case, the answer’s a hell-yeah, and I think there’s a few reasons why it’s worked here when it’s failed so many times before.
For one, it’s gut-bustingly funny all the way through, with nary a lull over the ten hours or so. Even the title screens are inspired: logos for various companies and publishers fade in and out, and it was only when a company noted for ‘procedurally generated logo screens’ appeared that I realised I had been had. Bravo, bravo.
For two, the mickey-taking comes from a place of love for the two game genres. While Ben will have a dig at platforming, Dan will hit back with a defence. A spotlight might fall on a point-and-click cliche, but will just as swiftly move to something that makes them great. For example, there’s a sequence that takes a shot at gimmicky indie platform characters, before realising that, by blending platforming and point-and-clicks, they’ve become their own gimmick.
For three, the point-and-clicking and the platforming are of a reasonably high order themselves. The platforming swings from Sonic/Mario breeziness to Meatboy/Celeste hair-pulling and back again, depending on what they want to take the piss out of, and it’s generally competent on its own. The point-and-clicking never quite sheds its PC origins, as the controls are occasionally awkward (I’m STILL pressing the wrong buttons to teleport or access my inventory), but the puzzles are frequently brilliant and memorable.
For four, Lair of the Clockwork God does something fantastic that makes platforming and point-and-click gaming feel equally valuable. The core of the experience is that this is a 2D game-world that has two sets of rules for our different protagonists. Ben plays by the rules of a graphic adventure, able to interact with the environment, pick up items, store them in an inventory and use them all together. Dan plays by the rules of a platformer and can run, jump, bottom-bump and respawn as he sees fit. This means you’re constantly viewing the game through two different lenses: what would benefit from a platforming approach, or a point-and-click one? It manages to make them both seem valuable and equally valid.
The backdrop to all the hilarity is something of a misfire, though. After a brief prologue, you are thrown into the apocalypse – or several, actually – and the only solution seems to be…a fetch quest for 11 ‘horcruxes’. For a game that roasts gaming cliches, it feels such a shame. Sure, they acknowledge the trope, and the horcruxes allow for some great situations, but it doesn’t stop the game as a whole feeling like a shopping list.
I should also note the bugginess of the version I played. It remains to be seen if it will be patched for launch – I was playing a week before release – but there were enough issues to be noticeable. Dan has a habit of glitching into the floor; autosaves cause slowdown which can be fatal on platforming sections; audio tracks layer on top of each other to create noise; and I had to restart a save to progress past a glitch that made a room pitch-black. For a game that’s been successful on PC for some time now, they come across as oversights.
The final hiccup is the point-and-click logic. I can only imagine what it must have been like to review on PC at first launch, but thankfully I had online guidance for when I was stuck. I like to think that I’m a point-and-click veteran, raised on Lucasarts and Discworld games, and I can honestly say that the Lair of the Clockwork God sits on the more abstract, diabolical end. It does heinous things, like requiring you to choose an identical dialogue option multiple times to get a new response, which is borderline unforgivable in my graphic adventure book!
But let’s linger on the good, as there’s so much of it in Lair of the Clockwork God. There’s plenty of good outside of it too, as the game is packaged with Devil’s Kiss, a parody of visual novels and relationship sims. It’s a condensed fifteen minutes of everything that makes Size Five’s humour industry-leading, and it’ll even give you some hints for Lair.
I’m going to be keeping some strong memories of Lair of the Clockwork God: finally figuring out what the ‘Store’ function is for on the game’s homescreen; finding out what happens inbetween respawns on platformers; and forming a human cube (which is every bit as horrific as it sounds). That’s what you want from a point-and-click – those spitting contest, toilet-teleporting moments that will stick with you for a long time to come, and Lair of the Clockwork God has an inventory full of them.
A joyful parody of platformers and graphic adventures that manages to keep hold of its love for them. It’s two games in one, and they’re both the funniest you’ll play this year.
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.