Clockwork is a steampunk style puzzle-platformer made by Gamesoft, as their debut title. In a lot of ways it reminds me of Teslagrad, another game with a similar aesthetic (which I would recommend) – it also had hand-drawn art like Clockwork does, and was similarly the debut title of its studio. I doubt it was heavily inspired, of course: steampunk is sort of done to death by everyone at this point, and Clockwork clearly intends to do its own thing. Is it a good thing? I’d say mostly.
Genre: Puzzle Platformer
Release date: 10th of October, 2016
Appropriately, Clockwork takes place in a massive clock, staffed entirely by robots in Victorian-era garb. You play as Atto, a robot boy of a ‘mere’ 400 years, who is basically the Oliver Twist of this setting. He spends his days fixing the other robots, who do the real work around the place, and not much else besides.
That is, until one day his watch, a keep-sake from his parents, begins to speak. The being inside, Milli, is breaking her silence for good reason: she’s running out of power. Three guesses who needs to help her get it, and the first two don’t count.
Alone Atto can run, jump (with ledge-grabbing), and flip switches. With Milli, he has one particular trick that most of the game revolves around. In every level you’ll come across clocks that activate as you pass them. Starting off, there are a few spots in every level that will teleport you back to them – soon enough you’ll be able to do that at the press of a button, and also lay down clocks wherever you please. However way you warp back to the clock, it will send out a clone of Atto that follows whatever he did up to that point.
You’ve probably seen this sort of gimmick in other games, and even if not you can probably imagine the kinds of things you use it for. You’ll move down one path and flip a switch or run on a treadmill to open a door, then warp back and go through. Or use a series of clones as counterweights to move an elevator up. Thing is, though, by the end of the first area I was starting to get a bit bored with these puzzles, and they felt repetitious: none of them were particularly complicated, but it felt like I doing the same idea over most of the time.
As the game goes on you’ll find yourself waiting for your clones to go about their business, and if you took a little while to figure out the puzzle it’s even longer. This actually seems encouraged later on, as you need to make sure the duplicates flip a switch or stand on a pressure plate at the right time, and waiting around naturally makes it less likely you’ll screw it up. It’s not terribly interesting, but it’s better than risking a restart of the level.
The puzzles get more interesting in the second area (of three), but not in an entirely good way. That’s when you start having to throw down clocks yourself and warp back to them, and the levels start getting a bit more complicated. So if you want a better challenge, the game rises to it, but you can also find yourself stuck more easily too. You really need to pay attention and figure out when and where to put down warp points. The game does offer help with this by letting you switch to Milli, who can fly through walls and explore the level, although she can’t interact with anything. It seems to expect you to take a cursory look at some stages, as with a lot of them I discovered it wanted me to put a clock down here and I hadn’t, so back to the start I went.
It’s not a game that needs really precise controls, but I still found some problems. Atto’s jump is static and doesn’t change with momentum or anything, but I had trouble making certain jumps, or more specifically triggering the ledge grab on them. Level 13 in the third area has one instance of this at the beginning that only seemed to work when it felt like it. There are only a few like that, fortunately, and none of them are in the two boss stages I’ve done, which are more like gauntlets of puzzles and platforming while under pursuit by something. Those have complete checkpoints, which I feel is something the normal levels, or at least some of them, could have done with.
The game mentions that it has over sixty levels on the store page, and I find that claim a bit suspect. Some of what are listed as levels are just cutscenes, or ones that are just a straight line while Atto and Milli talk to each-other. Since that happens in every level anyway, it seems like they’re just filler. That’s part of why I mentioned Teslagrad; that game was entirely silent, while this game is quite verbal.
That isn’t a bad thing, though: I never felt like the banter between the two leads never gets in the way, and a lot of it is entertaining. The story in general is simple but nice, and has some character development, particularly in Atto’s case. If you dislike a lot of dialogue in your games though, it may annoy you, since it never really stops.
Overall, Clockwork is imperfect and has some rough edges, not unlike the clockwork mechanisms it features. Everything could be done better, but as a first game for the team it’s still a very good effort. At fifteen dollars it may have been a bit much, but following a recent price drop to ten I’d say give it a try: it might just surprise you.
By Justin Brett