Review by YusakuG
"I've got toys in the attic..."
For as far back as I can remember, the fantasy industry has been fascinated with the secret life that toys lead when their owners are not around. Come on, we've all felt that way when we were kids, right? Our toys always seemed to be watching us, or it seemed that they knew something that they weren't telling us. Stories of toys coming to life behind our backs are numerous, ranging from Johnny Gruelle's beloved Raggedy Ann and Andy characters, all the way up to the infamous Chucky doll. When Sega launched its 32 Bit Sega Saturn, they decided to try their hand at this genre with Clockwork Knight.
Clockwork Knight was one of the very first games ever made for the Saturn, and like most launch titles, its main purpose was to demonstrate the power of the new system. In this area, Clockwork Knight succeeds. I remember being blown away by the game's 2.5D graphics. Although the game was your standard 2D platformer, the backgrounds had a lot more depth that seemed to make the objects your character interacted with stand out a lot more. Unfortunately, beyond the next generation graphics, was a simplistic and disappointing gameplay that, while fun, just did not have enough to truly leave a lasting impression with gamers. The end result is a game that I have a particular love/hate relationship with.
Clockwork Knight tells the simple story of Pepperouchau, a wind up toy knight who is in love with a toy princess named Chelsea. Every night at midnight, after all the people have gone to bed, Chelsea sings a magic song that brings all her fellow toys to life. On this particular night, Pepperouchau is having a competition with a fellow wind-up knight. They are showing off their sword skills in an attempt to impress Chelsea. When Pepperouchau's sword act goes wrong, all the other toys in the room have a good laugh at the rejected knight's expense. Just then, there is a crash of thunder, and all the lights go out. When the lights are restored, Chelsea is missing. Unless she can be found, she'll never sing her magic song, and the toys will never be able to come to life again. Pepperouchau and his rival knight ride off on their horses to find Princess Chelsea. Unknown to them, as soon as they leave, someone or something places a spell on all the toys in the room, turning them evil.
Pepperouchau's quest to find his missing love will take him across multiple levels that take place in different rooms of the house. These include the child's bedroom, an attic, a kitchen, and even riding on the back of a toy train. Armed only with a key that acts as his sword (hmm...Did the makers of Kingdom Hearts play this game?), Pepperouchau must combat the many toys that are under the spell of the mysterious evil force that has kidnapped Chelsea.
In order to cater to younger gamers (which this game is obviously targeted at), Pepperouchau has a rather limited series of moves to exploit in his quest. His most basic attack is to swing his key like a sword, but he can also pick up and throw certain objects at enemies. His key isn't just for offensive purposes, however. At certain times, our hero will come upon a large locked door blocking his path. He must use his key to make the way clear, by inserting it into the lock, and twisting his body around to turn the key inside the lock. There are some very simplistic strategy elements to the gameplay, however. While most enemies you encounter can be attacked head-on, some will be protected by shields or other objects, so Pepperouchau will have to attack from a different direction.
As I'm sure you can tell from the above paragraph, gameplay is not particularly strong with this title. That doesn't mean it's not fun, it's just so limited. I wish Pepperouchau had more moves at his disposal, and I wish there were some more challenging puzzle elements placed in the levels. Aside from a time limit for each level and a few enemies placed in tricky places, each level in the game is a total walkthrough. Unfortunately, the levels are fairly short as well. You'll have fun while they last, but a lot of the levels will leave you wanting more.
However, when it comes to graphics, Clockwork Knight was in a league of its own at the time of its release. Clockwork Knight was the first 32 Bit platformer, and since the Playstation had not been released yet, it was truly something gamers had never seen before. As mentioned earlier, the game uses a 2.5D approach. Although the game is your standard 2D platform game that we had seen countless times on the 8 and 16 Bit systems (only with a computer rendered look), the power of the Sega Saturn gave the areas you explored more depth. The objects in the background had a semi 3D effect, making it look like they were coming out toward you. Enemies and character sprites would scale in and out of the background and foreground, changing size as they did. Characters could warp and change themselves into different forms. Combine this with the game's excellent use of bright colors, and CGI cinemas, and Clockwork Knight was one of the more visually striking games out there.
It would be a crime to talk about the graphics, and not talk about the game's bosses. Clockwork Knight featured some of the most impressive boss battles seen in a game at the time, as well. Not only were they massive, often taking up most of the screen, but they were beautifully animated. My personal favorite boss in the game was the giant Transformer-like robot you battled early in the game. It was a giant robot that could turn itself into a jet plane, flying in and out of the background and foreground. The fact that the action was so fluid and never once slowed down was an impressive feat in 1995. Unfortunately, as impressive as the bosses were, they were also tremendously easy to beat. Only four or five strikes from Pepperouchau's key would send them down for the count.
In terms of sound, Clockwork Knight features an upbeat soundtrack that matches the game's bright and cartoon-style visuals. Opening with a cheery and somewhat cheesy song about the toys coming to life, you pretty much know where the music is headed. The soundtrack is your typical light Super Mario-inspired platform music that doesn't really stick out in your mind, but doesn't bother you either. Although, I must admit, I do kind of like the sweet and somewhat soulful vocal song they play during the game's ending credits. The sound effects are a bit more memorable, as they feature impressive-sounding explosions, and appropriate metallic ''clank'' sounds when the armored Pepperouchau runs around or jumps.
It's quite clear that Clockwork Knight was obviously created as a showcase for the Saturn's graphical abilities. The game's visual flair drew gamers in, but many walked away due to the shallow and simplistic gameplay. The game was also a bit too easy, allowing you to reach the end in a little over a half hour. If there had been more gameplay elements, a longer quest and more difficulty, I think Clockwork Knight could have stood out a lot more. The game just seems rushed, and perhaps it was. The game ends in a ''to be continued'' fashion, and sure enough, Sega released Clockwork Knight 2 one year later. You get the feeling that the programmers were forced to cut the game in half in order to make the Saturn's launch.
In the end, Clockwork Knight is a fun, but not entirely memorable adventure. Strip away the beautiful graphics, and the game just does not stand very well on its own. (Especially when you compare it to the much better Clockwork Knight 2.) The only way I could recommend picking up this game is if you can also pick up the game's sequel to go with it. The two games do complement each other nicely, and you'll get the full story, since Clockwork Knight ends halfway through the tale. Sega obviously had some big plans with this game. Unfortunately, they didn't get to use all of them.
Reviewer's Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Originally Posted: 11/05/02, Updated 06/09/03
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