The Neverhood

Developer:  The Neverhood
Publisher:  DreamWorks Interactive/Microsoft
Year Released:  1996

Review by Rosemary Young (January, 1997)
never.jpgYou, or I should say your character Klaymen, begin this adventure all alone in a not so dingy prison cell. Getting out is your first puzzle and though it isn't difficult it's bound to raise a chuckle or two. It sets the mood for this wonderfully entertaining game which, instead of featuring the usual cartoon-style graphics that we have seen in many adventure games, makes use of clay modelling to fashion both the gameworld and the characters. It's different, a little odd at first, but it grows on you very quickly.

Where am I, who am I?
You won't know what on earth is going on at this point, I said you were all alone and that's exactly what I meant. There is no background story in the manual to guide you, no expansive introduction to ease you in, but then how could there be because, as you will learn sooner or later, Klaymen himself is as innocent as a new born babe. He hasn't a clue so nor should you but, hopefully, you will soon begin to pick up bits and pieces and eventually get it all together.

Learning all about the story is an essential element of the game. As you move on you will find a number of 'tokens' that can be slotted into VDUs and it is here where the story emerges. To get some further information about the crazy land of the Neverhood you can also persevere in the Hall of Records and sit back and do a good slice of reading. I wouldn't recommend this, however, at least I wouldn't recommend that you try to do it all at once just in case it puts you off the game. It's quite an entertaining read, but not crucial to solving any of the puzzles. Remember though, a quick scan of the entire saga (or the entire Hall of Records) might still be to your advantage.

Lolloping along
The game is played out switching between a third person perspective where you can do things and solve puzzles and a first person perspective which consists of animated sequences which are used for some transitions as well as to reveal more of the story. But don't be alarmed, these sequences where you just have to sit back and watch are delightful and the animation can't fail to impress. Klaymen is a real sweetie, (just a baby, really) and he innocently raises his fingers to his mouth when confronted with a puzzle and plods along seeming without a care and with no respect for decorum. And as for his facial expressions, well they had me in fits of laughter ... I hope this isn't the last we see of Klaymen.

You control your character simply by pointing and clicking. There is only one cursor and no choice of actions, point to an exit and Klaymen will leave the screen or point to a lever, switch, or whatever, and he will use it. The game interface could well be described as 'bare-boned', it's simplicity itself . Although there are a few items to collect there isn't even an inventory and neither is there much help for you when you pick up an item as it is not 'described' in any way (other than visually, of course), so there is a good chance that it will end up as a mysterious item in your equally mysterious inventory. This is a little frustrating but, really, there is not all that much need for you to worry about inventory items because Klaymen will use them automatically when the time comes.

There is no text captioning in this game, but there is very little dialogue and Klaymen's face says it all. Although, the all important bits that tell the story (where you slot the tokens in the VDU's) have no text translations spoiling the game for anyone with a hearing impairment.

Solving puzzles
So Klaymen does a bit of the thinking for you, you don't have to sort out which item should be used where, but don't imagine that this is a game without things to think about as there is plenty to keep you busy. Although the puzzles aren't overly difficult, a fair proportion of them are not an absolute doodle either. They include a familiar sliding tile puzzle, a musical puzzle where you must match the 'tones', a concentration game as well as an assortment of problems necessitating a lot of diligent observation. Very likely that odd marking on a wall, or that squiggle that lights up when you press a button will be meaningful at sometime, and even the lonesome buttons that you don't know whether to press or not will surely help out somewhere.

My best advice is to look around and take note of everything, then when you come across a problem rack your brains because something you have already seen will certainly be significant. And there are some in-game hints to help you out, you just have to find them.

All in all the puzzles in this game are quite varied and, if not always brain teasers, they are surely entertaining. Amongst other things you'll have to find a way to shrink Klaymen to access one location, learn how to sight a cannon and rescue a teddy bear in distress ... and along the way you'll find out who and what you are.

A novel experience
Neverhood is a 'novelty' game if ever there was one. It's quirky and quaint with one of the cutest characters around. So it doesn't have an inventory and the cursor is limited so your control is limited, but somehow I found it in my heart to forgive these 'shortcomings'. It's so visually captivating it's one of those games where it's not a good idea to load it up and show it off to your visitors to introduce them to computer game playing, because you'll never get rid of them.

The animations and the antics of Klaymen are so entertaining I would like to recommend this game as one for all the family. Children will surely love it and the simple interface makes it particularly accessible for them, although they will need help with the puzzles. The one really big 'puzzle' for me, though, is the rating on the game cover ... it's not recommended for younger children. What a crime that the demographics should be restricted in this way ... and what a shame that the teddy bear got its head ripped off and a couple of little 'thingies' got well and truly squashed. rating:  

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1997. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Pentium 75, 8 MB RAM (16 recommended), 1 MB VRAM
SVGA monitor, 4xCD ROM, 8-bit sound card & speakers (16-bit recommended) 10 MB available hard disk space, Windows 95.