Adult life is a constant juggle to find a good balance. It is a difficult mountain to climb. Developed by Size Five Games and published by Ant Workshop, Lair of the Clockwork God attempts to balance two gaming genres and does so seemingly with ease. It is available on all platforms and it cleverly combines 90s point and click adventures with the rise of indie platformers that surpassed them in popularity. This is a love-letter to gaming and a real treat to play. The premise requires finding a good balance and this game more than impressed me on that front.
The story is that an old computer known as ‘The Mechanic’ resides in his lair. He is responsible for watching over the humans, and a recent shutdown has caused a series of apocalypses. To somewhat save the day, two heroes named Ben and Dan must help the computer learn 11 core human emotions. By doing so, the Mechanic will empathize with our species, so that he may end the apocalypses.
You play as both Ben and Dan, switching effortlessly between the two with the touch of a button. Ben is a point-and-click adventurer, so he has nothing to upgrade and he cannot run or jump (keep getting him to try and he will tell you off). But he can interact with the world, as well as collect and craft items. Dan is a platformer, so he cannot do the things that Ben can, but in turn, Dan can run, jump, and upgrade his skills from start to finish. This is a pixel 2D side-scroller, full of puzzles that you need both characters for. Their idiosyncratic abilities greatly complement each other. For example, Dan can upgrade, but only from the items that Ben picks up. It has been given a lot of thought and this gameplay co-dependency helps to reinforce their friendship. They frequently show they care about each other in that lovely way that only men can – by relentlessly insulting one another.
How the game plays out, the pop-culture references, clear nods, and jokes, along with level structure, reassured me early on that this has clearly been made by gamers. For example, there is a level that sees Ben die at the first checkpoint. He is then taken to a Respawn Centre. Here, he meets lots of other gaming characters all waiting to be sent back to their respective games. But Ben does not want to go back to his checkpoint because it was at the start of a level he cannot be bothered with. So, you the player are then tasked with making Ben look like he died much later in the level, all to trick the staff at the Respawn Centre. On another occasion, a message pops up on screen that the Size Five Store is open – “the perfect place to stock up on premium inventory items, to help you through some of the games trickier puzzles!”. For a moment, my heart sank. I thought ‘not this game as well’ but it was all part of the joke. You visit the store via the pause menu to claim your free credits but there is an error, so you hack the store and set the cost of all items to 0. It is a joy to play a game that has been made by people who care about this industry. There are many moments like this that I would love to describe but it really would spoil the game for you. Each level surprised me, and I was constantly in awe.
The last good point I want to make is that the game comes with Devil’s Kiss which is a prequel visual novel explaining how Ben and Dan met at school. You do not need to play the Devil’s Kiss, but it is lovely additional material and adds context to the protagonists.
I had a few niggles with the game. The main issue was that it stutters quite a lot. I played on Xbox and after every checkpoint and at the end of each conversation, I routinely faced a screen freeze. Not always annoying but during the later levels, when the platforming aspects required surgical precision, these stutters caused me physical pain. Also, all dialogue is shown as text on screen and unless you are a quick reader, you will miss a lot of it. Adult language features heavily, along with some scenes too rude for younglings. Finally, some of the puzzles require you to really think outside the box and this will cause frustration to some gamers.
Overall, I had a blast. I am in my early 30s, raised on Broken Sword and Mario. I felt this game was made for me.