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Claybook (Switch) Review

by Xander Morningstar - March 12, 2019, 2:58 pm PDT
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Got world building?

Claybook is literally a sandbox (claybox?) game, because players can play as clay shapes—though admittedly closer to play-doh—in an enclosed area, and seemingly build and destroy whatever they wish. There are challenges in the handcrafted levels that are all puzzle focused. The premise of giving the keys to unlimited design to the player seems like it could backfire, and in there are some missteps. But overall, it is impressive how Claybook presents challenges to the player, and leaves the door wide open for how the end goal can be reached.

Each level is timed, and times are posted on an online leaderboard. So, while you have the power to do whatever you want, there is still a sense of urgency and control around the most economical use of time and planning to complete the level’s task. Examples of these tasks are, “reach all the waypoints,” “eat all the chocolate,” or “fill up these pools with liquid.” You have to ask yourself what shape you will take. Will you pick one that is best suited for getting across a thin platform, or one that can climb up stairs? Whether there are balancing acts, races to checkpoints, hard-to-reach locations, Claybook has a decent variety of challenge.

The biggest issue is that despite the nature of the game, these challenges don’t “build” on themselves very much. An idea is presented, and then revisited later on, but there is hardly an increase in difficulty. The best case of upscaling in difficulty I found was a level that had me race towards various locations in the world, with the addition of pestering nozzles shooting liquid clay at me to get in the way. But other areas that asked me to fill up pools were equal in difficulty, despite being a much later level. There are four distinct “worlds” that have four levels in each, totaling up to sixteen levels. “Worlds” is a loose term because they just share theming; aesthetically, they don’t connect like many 3D worlds do. This isn’t a con by any means; it’s actually quite nice to have self-contained areas for these challenges. These levels were fun but fairly short. They often did not require the same amount of time to finish. Filling up a pool took much longer for me than, for example, racing towards checkpoints. This is certainly an area that will vary from player to player, based on their approach to the problems, but I think that you are likely to have finished the base levels in about 2-3 hours.

While the main game is fun, and a great tutorial on what Claybook’s world has to offer, it is short. I think I will end up spending more time looking at online community creations, and building in the editor. There is a robust editor that provides access to all the shapes, buildings, and pieces used to create the main game’s levels. If anything, I think the main game serves as inspiration for what can be made. Building is very easy, but being 3D software, it certainly is not as intuitive as something like Super Mario Maker. That’s just the nature of the medium. I will say, I have experience in 3D programs like 3DS Max and Maya, and those skills certainly transferred over. So, I didn’t spend much time looking for help, as this was simply basic modeling. That said, there wasn’t a whole lot in the realm of tutorials that I saw, so if you’ve never had experience with 3D design before, it might take a little while to understand what is happening.The biggest speed bump for me was the controls. It felt weird to be building using a controller, and I suspect that the Steam version of Claybook will be superior because it defaults to mouse and keyboard. The online community has an assortment of levels to look through, download, and even edit if desired. It supports cross-platform play, and you can even design whole books of levels to share. There’s really a lot here.

Visually, it looks great (except for that kid in the background of every level that is playing with the joystick and whose eyes stare deep into your soul). I was convinced the world was made of clay, and that I was actually affecting the world as I moved through it. Rolling around as a clay ball, I picked up the colors of the clay ground or walls I was touching, and I really felt like I was deforming the structural shapes around me. I do wish there was a bit more variety in music and backgrounds. You’re always in the same playroom setting; you can’t try to create a castle on the moon or at the beach. You can still build a castle, but it’s going to be in a playroom, with the jaunty music in the background. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it would certainly add to the immersion and capitalize on the creative tool set’s potential.

The last thing I’ll say is that Claybook, in all its splendor, can get glitchy. You can deform too far into the ground, and get stuck or clip in between blocks really easily. Thankfully, there is a rewind button that will pull you out of any situation. This comes in handy when you are trying to make a bridge or arc, and you take a tumble. By nature, a game about making a mess can get a little messy in terms of physics, but the convenience of the rewind feature is deeply appreciated. And that’s Claybook. It’s not groundbreaking and it’s fairly short. But it has a lot of potential, and I hope it continues to be supported. The online works well, despite being a bit basic, but the editor is pretty robust if you can get past the learning curve.

Summary

Pros
  • Creative use of medium and challenges
  • Levels are easy to share
  • Online community works great
  • Rewind feature
  • Robust builder system
  • Visuals are very convincing
Cons
  • Camera can be hard to control
  • Explanations aren’t always provided
  • Not much variety in music
  • Occasional glitches

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Game Profile

Genre Action
Developer
Players1 - 4

Worldwide Releases

na: Claybook
Release Mar 12, 2019
RatingEveryone

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