Genre: Fighting Developer: Visual Concepts Publisher: Interplay Players: 1-2 Released: 1994
Much like the war games of today’s generation of games, fighters were a major money market in the early to mid ’90s. When mascots weren’t doing as well as many developers hoped, they instead opted to try out some fighters. Companies like Capcom, SNK, Takara, among others, pretty much knew what they were doing and created some of the best of the era.
Of course that didn’t stop plenty of companies from trying their hand at a fighting game. Some created games based on a set of 2D characters along with one total generic guy, creating the Street Fighter effect. Others attempted to go a whole other route, using dinosaurs or robots.
But one company in California decided to jump on the success of the British claymation series Wallace & Gromit and created an entire world based on stop-motion and clay models. They called it ClayFighter, and the world would never be the same.
You start off with a pretty much nonexistent plot. One of these twelve warriors wants to be king of the circus! (The SNES version mentions a meteor crashing to earth, holding our heroes inside, yet the Genesis version omits this for some reason) You then start off fighting off your competitors in a preset order, along with facing four of them twice. Eventually you’ll face N. Boss, a character who was (painfully) obviously thrown in at the last minute just to have a final boss to fight.
The characters are actually pretty nice to look at and are a bit creative if not too cliche. You’ve got the game’s “mascot” in Bad Mr. Frosty, Elvis impersonator Blue Suede Goo, Opera singer Helga, Bonker the Clown, Icky Bod Clay – a ghost with a pumpkin head, The Blob, who is a extra plop of clay thrown together when the deadline loomed and they refused to create anyone else, Taffy, a candy version of Gumby (dammit!), and Tiny, a Greco-Roman wrestler.
The games outer shell (not the box, as in the actual game) promises a fun cartoony romp. With its theme music, its colorful menu system, and that little samurai guy in the vs. menu, but when you actually get to the first fight, things quickly change.
A seeming case of graphics-over-gameplay, you’ll find the controls a bit unresponsive as you try to get going. Using clay seems to have hindered the developers ability to create fluid animation for the actual fighting, making it a chore knowing exactly what you’re doing. Sometimes pressing a button a certain way does one act, but pressing it again does something totally different, which actually means the game is textbook definition insane, or the game was rushed, either works.
The actual controls would probably be a problem even if the sprites were normal drawn characters. Sometimes you’ll be fighting the controls so much, that you’ll forget about your opponent, who can easily whip out some huge combo to take so much health it seems almost useless to continue. The way the controls go, eventually all matches will consist of doing jump kicks and trying to punch a couple times, which will probably all be blocked. Then you could try a special move, but actually knowing if it works or not can be a bit annoying with the screwy animation.
The controls are really what does ClayFighter in. If the actual game was pretty easy to work with, it could have easily been a classic and worth its multiple sequels. Instead, the game was all show and no go.
There is one bright spot though. The audio actually work pretty well. The circus theme song, along with the characters various themes fit right in with the characters and can actually be a bit catchy. The various sounds in the fights are helpful too. Characters get their own voices, not just “oofs” and “ughs.” Even the punching sounds work. Oddly enough, the sounds seem to have been worked on more than anything else in the whole game.
Other than that, ClayFighter had a novel concept. Use clay to create an entire video game universe. When the game was first released, many were actually excited by such a new concept. Interplay was close, but in the end it didn’t focus on what was REALLY needed: gameplay. You won’t be playing this for more than one run-through, considering there isn’t even really an ending when you beat it.
For some reason, however, I still like it, after all that. The game can get kind of challenging at times, but it’s mostly on the side of controls instead of a tough opponent. Even the N. Boss isn’t much more than a computer generated necklace with eyes and pearl projectiles and a throw move. ClayFighter is not hard to find and not that expensive, so if you don’t have it, there’s no real problem with picking it up, but just remember that the controls may need a bit of getting use to really have fun with it.
SCORE: 5 out of 10