Satisfaction in sepia.
Review written by
January 9th, 2013
The classic run-and-gun formula has seen a plethora of entries in the storied and tumultuous history of video games. Surrounded by acclaimed greats like Metal Slug, Super Metroid, Mega Man, and Contra, Gunman Clive, a title by indie mobile developer Bertil Horberg, finds itself in the company of giants. Newly released on the 3DS eShop, as well as the Darwinian iPhone and Android app stores, Gunman Clive steps in attempting to sell itself on style, and yet manages to be so much more.
First and foremost, Gunman Clive is a game that echoes the simplicity of yesterday. Thematically, it's a love letter to the lore and spirit of the Western, while stylistically, it's a delicate cross between the black and white (or rather green on light green) visuals of the Game Boy and the mad scribbles in an Indiana Jones film or Uncharted game's antique adventurer's notebook. While bordering on bland and lacking in visual variety, Gunman Clive at least stays consistent with its graphical accomplishments, which can't always be said of the common platformer. As with many indie games, this is not meant to be an outright spectacle, even if a boss or two will undoubtedly surprise you with bold visual ingenuity (a mecha steam train being an absolute highlight).
Yes, you will grow quickly accustomed to pencil on tan-hide brown. But worry not because Gunman Clive gives its full attention to gameplay. Again, the name of the game is simplicity. Clive, and his playable counterpart, Ms. Johnson, runs, shoots, and jumps. That's about it, save for an occasional ladder to climb or bullet to dodge with a crouch. This is a game so simple, it manages to be far better controlled on the D-pad than on the circle pad, as you'll likely find a greater connection to his or her movements with the shorter distance your thumb need travel.
Clive's motion itself is on the floater edge of the platformer spectrum, evoking memories of LittleBigPlanet instead of the razor sharp moving and jumping in, say, Super Mario Land. It's a nice, friendly feeling, which comes in sharp contrast with what can often be a fairly unfriendly difficulty in certain levels and boss fights. Luckily, Gunman Clive never crosses the border into frustrating or punishing, as it employs a similar try-until-you-succeed mentality to the wonderful VVVVVV, another great offering on the 3DS eShop (although this time with a health bar and a way to fight back at all the things trying to kill you). There are no lives and dying simply places you at the start of the level. A little annoying, to be sure, but never as rage inducing as the penalty for failure in most games of the genre. Not having the threat of game overs looming over your head certainly invites greater experimentation and freedom.
There aren't that many different enemy types, but the game makes up for it with its challenging platforming. While you certainly won't see anything too out there in terms of genre innovation, Gunman Clive manages to keep the action fresh with levels that build upon core platform ideas progressively. Falling and disappearing blocks, spinning rectangles, breakable floors and many other recognizable elements make their home here and the level design is quite intelligent. You know a game's good when you can only attribute your many deaths to your own incompetence, instead of cheap or unbalanced design choices. There's no hint of Super Star Wars here, snark snark.
Boss fights also offer recognizable fare, with the objective always being shoot 'em till they die. There's usually some trick to reaching the bosses' hit areas, at least with later ones, but the fact that they don't offer that much gameplay variety isn't in the game's favor. Even still, boss fights are undoubtedly the most difficult aspect of the game and require heroic action from the player. As with the platforming levels, having infinite lives basically excuses any excess in difficulty as it just requires you to take a deep breath and learn with every death until the deed is done.
On the auditory side, Gunman Clive has some beautifully composed tracks that blend a Western sound with soft electronic chiptunes. It can be motivating for when you succeed and soothing when you fail, and absolutely deserves a dedicated soundtrack release (please!). Sounds are effective yet adequately simple, and you'll never feel like the game is excessively busy with noise. In general, it's all very, very fitting with the mood and atmosphere of the title, and deserves nothing but praise.
All told, the game will likely take you a couple hours on one normal leveled play through and a few more on hard and the 'duck' mode unlocked upon the first completion, which involves flying through the levels as a duck with no weapon and thus no way to regain health. Short, sweet, and certainly enough content to justify the shallow $1.99 entry fee, Gunman Clive likely won't be a game to occupy you for more than an afternoon. That's not really a knock against it, but rather a realistic estimation for a game that is entertaining without proclaiming itself savior for the starved indie gaming masses. It keeps itself in its place and knows how much content it needs to be fun without soiling itself in its own difficulty or pretentiousness.
Ultimately, Gunman Clive is entertaining, challenging, and most importantly unique, a winning combination of elements if ever there was one.
(this game was provided to me by the developer for this review)
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