The Neverhood - Play It
For the uninitiated, The Neverhood is a claymation FMV point and click adventure game that was released on the PC in 1996. Yes, the same year as Mario 64, Resident Evil, Quake, Crash Bandicoot, and Civilization 2. It's safe to assume that it never stood a chance. It was clear that a shift in the market was taking place, leaning more towards 3d action games and sadly The Neverhood just got lost in the shuffle only selling roughly 50,000 units by 1997. But even as a kid I remember seeing this game and being struck by it. I was so curious about what it was and I wanted it so bad but for one reason or another I never got it. It only took me about 15 years to actually get a copy and finally quench my curiosity and let me tell you it unquestionably delivered.
Players take control of Klayman, quite literally a clay man as he embarks on an adventure to reclaim his lost memory while also uncovering the secrets of the Neverhood. These are all questions you will answer while navigating the Neverhood all the while solving logic puzzles and interacting with the world's strange and lovable characters. Every corner of the Neverhood is a mystery and exploration is a delight. It's a bit archaic by today's standards but the overwhelming charm and incredible soundtrack make the time I've spent in The Neverhood a true joy.
From the second the game boots up your senses are greeted with some of the most beautifully weird visuals your eyes can see. Everything and I means everything in the game is made of clay. From the character models to the backgrounds, the items you use, and all the environments are handcrafted to perfections using clay. I often felt like I can spin my monitor around and see a tiny person moving everything around as if it was a puppet show. From the first screen to it's last, the game's beautiful art direction holds up and is continuously enchanting.
The same can be said about the game's protagonist, Klayman. This guy's such a lovable dope. He's a quirky oddball that's the perfect conduit for us to get accustomed to the Neverhood. His slapstick nature is a perfect representation of what to expect while playing. The story is mostly told through the environment but there are also a decent amount of pre-rendered Claymation FMVs. After you reach a certain milestone in the story you will be rewarded with an excellent claymation short that tend to be hysterical. Sometimes they help progress the story but sometimes there simply there to make you laugh. These scenes are what truly highlight Klayman as a character and although he never utters a word through the whole adventure, these moments develop his character greatly.
There's a bit of a sinister undertone to the story but it's surrounded by a heavy dose of silliness and slapstick that perfectly balances each other allowing us to laugh but also invest ourselves in the story. There's not much in the way of dialogue in the game but It's totally redeemed by the incredible soundtrack composed by Terry Scott Tayler. Just Like the game's claymation design, The Neverhood's soundtrack elevates every aspect of the game. It's just so strange, weird, and silly. Lyrically, it's mostly just funny mumbling and grunts but when coupled with the instrumental composition it's truly magical.
The puzzles you encounter lend themselves nicely to the mysterious nature of the game, all feeling like a smaller piece of a bigger picture. As you discover new areas you'll find fragments of the Neverhood's past, echoes of previous residents, that tend to be downright ominous at times. For the most part, the puzzles never reach those "what the hell?" moments usually associated with the genre but they can be challenging. I managed to beat the game without a guide but not without the help of a pen and paper. Memorizing numeric codes and odd, alien symbols was nearly impossible without writing them down and the game is filled with these types of puzzles. Luckily it's pretty clear what needs to be done it just takes some work. By the end of my playthrough, I had papers scattered around my desk with all these weird symbols and colors it looked like I've lost my mind. Still, even in it's more obtuse moments I always wanted to push forward.
The variation to every puzzle is also excellent and you will almost never encounter the same one twice. Initially, it could be frustrating since there isn’t a language to the puzzles, you're always learning new rules and mechanics but the creativity of each puzzle shines through the imperfections of the system. what really sucks though is that there is no way to access your inventory. You collect things through your journey but there is no way to keep track of what you collected so when you find an interactable item you won’t always know how to interact with it unless you have the specific item it needs.
On one hand, there is no guessing involved when your sure you have the right puzzle piece but if you don’t it’s a different story. Another nuisance comes in the form of these mandatory cartridges Klayman must collect. The game doesn’t tell you that you need each one to finish the game so if you miss just one that means you gotta go back to who knows where and find it. There’s no auto tracker so you must make sure you write down how many you picked up and where. If not, the only way to know how many you have left is to go back to a location from the start of the game and count the cartridge slots in this weird console. It’s a terrible system and in my mind the games only true fault. In my first playthrough, I got as far as I could get and when I got hit with that “you need to collect all the whosy whatsys to progress” I won’t lie, I cried. But like a good little boy, I went back and found every last one. And thankfully I did because the game's ending is adorable and well worth the effort.
I know that adventure games aren’t for everyone, hell I usually can’t stand them but it’s just a testament to how special The Neverhood is. The world oozes charm from every orifice (ew) and it's filled with memorable moments, characters, and locations. Klayman is a national treasure that must be protected at all costs and he’s only one of many interesting folks you’ll find in The Neverhood. The puzzles are mostly great, continuously challenging you in unexpected and fun ways. They expect a lot from you but the rewarding feeling of conquering a real som’ a bitch puzzle is second to none. Yeah, there are annoying aspects but just deal with it, I'm telling you its worth it.
Listen, I'm done being cordial, play The Neverhood. But you're saying “I don’t like adventure games, there so annoying” (said in baby voice) but I don’t care just play it. Your sixth playthrough of Final Fantasy 7 could wait. It’s expensive as hell to buy and getting it to work on modern PCs might be a real bitch so just torrent it and run it as administrator you’re a big kid you’ll figure it out. Do it for Klayman, do it for Klayman.