Gods

Those gods are an incorrigible lot!  Gallivanting around, interfering in the affairs of men and women; raising our dead, bedding our virgins, causing droughts when their daughters are abducted and married off in the Underworld, tricking bulls into mating with them, changing crows from white to black (I’m looking at you, Apollo!), and generally messing with our love lives.

Why, then, did they not interfere with the making of this game?

I am, of course, referring chiefly to the Greek pantheon of gods that reside on Mount Olympus.  In many ways their myth and legend were precursors to the celebrity gossip magazines and soap operas women enjoy today.  They cheated on each other; they bitched behind each others’ backs; they played chess with each others’ lives; hell, Eris started the Trojan War because she didn’t get invited to a wedding(!)!  I could find all of these things in a regular episode of Neighbours or Home & Away (except maybe the Trojan War part), but then again, why would I want to?

Can you tell I’m trying not to talk about the game yet?

That’s because I found Gods for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System to be generally…uninspiring.  I was hoping Gods would be some kind of Populous knock-off – because, hey, I love Populous – but I really should have known better.  If it’s not abundantly clear to you by now, Constant Reader, the SNES catalogue is riddled with generic McPlatformers.  Such fine publications as Computer & Video Games magazine (93% – CVG Hit!), Amiga Computing (90%!), Amiga Format (90% – Amiga Format Gold!), CU Amiga magazine (93% – CU Super Star!), Zero magazine (90% – Zero Hero!), and the Swedish Datormagazin (97% – Datormagazin Smash Hit!) will try to tell you differently; that I’m missing something fundamentally groundbreaking about the game, but I’m really not.

TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL!!!
TONIGHT WE DINE IN HELL

You are a Spartan warrior (I’ll do this game a favour and not compare it to Spartan: Total Warrior or 300), running around throwing daggers constantly at the constant stream of foes; picking up random food items (whole roast chickens, lamb shanks – you know the deal) to repair your wounds; pulling levers, climbing ladders, and timing your jumps to the millisecond – in-game millimetres from the edge – because that spring in your step can’t carry your Shetland-pony-ass more than one metre high and two metres forward (again, using in-game measurements).  Oh, and dying – did I mention dying? – you’ll be doing a lot of that.

What, then, is this game’s glorious gift to Civilisation (again, another game I’ll do the favour of not comparing this to)?

Why, backtracking, my pungent friend!  For keys in doors, magic pots, and other such rubbish.  Something that the Metroid family of games does infinitely better.  In fact, I can’t think of a single thing this game does that hasn’t been done better by other games of its era.  It’s not even a “greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts” situation; there are games out there that do all of the same things Gods does in more satisfying ways.

But maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, here; maybe I have missed something fundamental.  Perhaps the gods *did* interfere with this game, though not the denizens of Mount Olympus you might have expected, or imagined.  No, I postulate a new theory:

Gods was a trick devised by Asgard’s very own god of mischief (and comic book supervillain), Loki – to vex the minds of mere mortals, and sully the good name of the Olympians!  Here’s proof:

Look, Ma!  No vowels!
Look, Ma! No vowels!

And here’s the biggest tease:

How come Hercules gets vowels but I don't?
How come Hercules gets vowels but I don't?
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Claymates

Does anyone else remember the ‘clay’ craze that took place circa 1993?  It seemed like every game and his dog wanted to be made out of clay, when in reality it was probably just Interplay.  Maybe the whole thing was a symptom of those ‘photorealistic’ FMV games on the Mega CD, or Mortal Kombat.  Then again, who really cares? Claymates is the second ‘clay’ themed franchise from Interplay, ClayFighter having just been released six months beforehand.

Claymates is built around a bizarre premise: your name is Clayton (get it?), and your nutty professor father has developed a formula to turn humans into animals(!) and is presumably about to show you/experiment on you(!), when out of nowhere an evil shaman teleports himself inside the laboratory, transforming you into a ball of clay with his stick before spiriting your father away!

THIS IS BLASPHEMY!  THIS IS MADNESS!!

This is Claymates.

"NO!!  FATHER, PLEASE!!!"
“NO!! FATHER, PLEASE!!!”

So now you’re this blue ball of clay rolling around a garish level that exists solely within the confines of your backyard sandpit.  You’d be surprised what you can fit in a sandpit!  It’s funny, because Claymates invented ‘sandbox’ gaming before GTA did [except not really, because that was a joke, and if we were to take it that literally the first child that ever took up a bucket and spade invented sandbox gaming].  Anyway, you pick up a coloured ball of clay pretty soon and transform into a slow-as-buggery cat or a mouse-with-his-ass-on-fire most of the time, but occasionally you might transform into something interesting like a bird that pecks and flies really badly or a squirrel that throws acorns or a fish that shoots bubbles.  I don’t know what goldmine they thought they were sitting on here, but I noticed before the title screen that Interplay had trademarked all these animals, giving them names like “Muckster™ the Cat” and “Globmeister™ the Gopher” (apparently not a squirrel anymore), which is interesting considering the animals pretty much look like generic depictions of what they are (the mouse looks like a mouse, the cat looks like a cat, etc.).

Timeless Classics(TM).
Timeless Classics™.

Thing is, I thought you were still ‘you’ (Clayton) when you picked up the clay and transformed into an animal.  After all, is that not what Prof. Dad’s formula was all about?  Perhaps this means that you’re imbued with the evil shaman’s animistic powers and can channel the spirits of these kooky characters, which begs the question, why, then, would the shaman even need the formula if he already had the power to channel animal spirits?! This game raises far more questions than it seeks to answer.

After you’ve pondered the logistics of animism and weird science, you run and jump from left to right kleptomanaically collecting gems, items, power-ups, and uncovering secret mini-levels.  The collect-a-thon is, however, spoiled by dubious checkpoint placement and the fact that you lose all gems, items, and animality upon dying (even if you’ve reached a checkpoint).  The harshness of it all really discouraged me, and was seemingly at odds with the game’s initial invitation to experiment and explore.  That said, Claymates is still inviting, and packed full of things to do.  Upon finishing the level, two robots are unleashed upon your backyard (overworld) and help you break into your neighbours’ backyards(!) and consequently, their sandpits (levels).  Curiouser and curiouser.

The action button doubles as the run button, which is a bit awkward, seeing as slow-as-buggery Muckety-Mucky-Muckster™ can’t run and slash at the same time.  Oozy™ the Mouse is impressively fast – possibly even faster than a certain blue hedgehog – and must make use of the ‘blaze-processing’ boasted about on some virtual box art I found the other day.  Problem is these fellas run about as smooth as an oil slick, but let’s chalk that one up to personal preference, hey?  The level design is Spartan, but clever – the various power-ups and level devices themselves are crude, ugly, and reminiscent of Apogee shareware.

Deliciously Ugly.
Deliciously Ugly.

The sprites look okay, and I suspect the clay effect would have knocked the socks off of kids on their CRT televisions back in the day, but now they look a little out of place juxtaposed with the decidedly un-clay levels.  The character animation is terrible once again – I’m starting to see a trend here in most non-Mario/Sonic platformers – to the point that I’m wondering whether it was animation, and chiefly animation, that separated those two giants of industry from the rest of the competition during that era.

It may not be Mario and it may not be Sonic, but Claymates is definitely one of the more interesting platformers out there.  I suspect the lack of polish is inversely proportional to the overabundance of ideas crammed into these sandpits.  My advice: climb into the sandpit wide-eyed like a child and you’ll be in a state of constant surprise.

Just don’t come crying to me if you get sand in your eyes.