In 1988, a man named Doug TenNapel had a dream. A dream to make a videogame entirely out of claymation, and plasticine figures. It was a concept never before attempted in the history of videogames. Then again, as far as I know, no one’s ever attempted to make a videogame out of dead rats either. Just because an idea is original, doesn’t mean it’s good, but I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt, when i decided to play and review The Neverhood.
The game was made by Doug’s company “The Neverhood, Inc.’” with the help of Steven Spielberg’s own company, “Dreamworks Interactive”. But when I downloaded the game all I knew was that I had first played it about fifteen years ago, but only ever saw the first two rooms because I didn’t understand what I was supposed to do and got stuck. Surely I’d be able to do better, with more experience under my belt. Let’s take a look.
Once the title screen animation is over, we’re dropped right in the first room with our main character sleeping on the floor. This is Klaymen, our player character. I only know that because I looked it up. You move Klaymen around by clicking the background to move, and clicking on hotspots to use or look at them
To proceed, you pull the lever on the wall. Doing so, makes the big hammer above the door swing down and smashes it off its hinges, allowing you into the next room. That seems impractical to me, but then again I’m not an architect.
In the next room is a piranha monster (apparently not a plant). If you fall in its mouth, it spits you out unscathed. In fact, nothing in this game hurts you. There’s only one way to die that I know of, and it’s really stupid. When you pull the hanging chains on the ceiling, you’ll find that each makes a weird noise, except for the one which opens the door, but it closes the door as soon as you let go. This is where I got stuck 15 years ago. But that’s because back then I didn’t know about the mailbox.
If you go down the ladder, you’ll find a mailbox and a bin. Inside is a letter for you, from someone called ‘Willie Trombone’ which tells you how to proceed. If at any point you get stuck you can return to this screen to find clues on how to continues the game. I didn’t realize that when I played, but even so, I reckon it requires a hell of a lot of backtracking.Nopw you just head up the ladder, use Willie’s ‘pet’ to open the door and enter the Neverhood.
This is the first Hubworld. You navigate it with a rudimentary first person perspective wherein each click starts a little animation as you turn, or walk forward a dozen steps or so. It’s a good way of seeing the whole level but the movement is very slow, and with all the backtracking this game asks for, it gets frustrating real fast.
Let me give you the rundown of the locations in this first Hub. I don’t know the actual names of most things, so I just made names up as I went along.
Willie Trombone’s House
This is the first level. We came from here. Get used to this, because inevitably you will have to backtrack here in order to complete the game.
At first I thought this was Klaymen’s House, but since Willie’s pet is there, it must be his. Although, there is the distinct possibility that they live together, but that just raises more questions, since there’s only one bedroom.
Hall of Records
Once you solve the sliding puzzle on the wall, you can head into the Basement where you find the first viewscreen. Throughout the game, you’ll need to find exactly twenty small, rectangular tapes called ‘Story Disks’ left on the floor. These can be deposited in any of the various viewscreens found all over the Neverhood. The Story Disks were left by Willie Trombone, and hold the story of “The Closing of the Third Age”. This is essentially the plot of the game, and in the words of Willie Trombone: “Once you know this truth, then you know what to do.”
They also explain the history of the Neverhood, but they’re not the only way to learn the story . . .
If you head deeper into the Hall of Records, you’ll find what I call the Wall of Records. This is where they have the full record of Neverhood’s history, culture, important characters & I think even a religion written across the walls. This is pretty cool in a way, seeing the history of this world which Doug TenNapel was working on all this time. But it is way too long. Seriously, there are over 35 Rooms with writing on the walls, each with up to seven columns of text each, and you can only read it one column at a time. Although I disapprove of lazy reading, I barely even skimmed this. I am not going to waste half an hour of my gaming time reading what is essentially Play-doh fanfiction.
I get that it’s supposed to be clay (even though it’s plasticine), but making a whole section brown just looks like crap, literally. The explosives storage room before it is also a pain, as you have to play a switching mini-game to put the TNT on the dummy. This mini-game is not fun, it’s just trial and error busywork. That’s the first big problem with this game in general.
The mini-games are often very challenging, but not fun.
TV Guy’s House
This is a horrible place. Sure, the mini-game is pretty cool. You have to fill the lower pipes with water to make it play the same tune as the upper pipes. Unlike the other mini-games this is actually a puzzle, and the first part of this that I would call ‘fun’.
But it’s horrible because once you enter the house, you are greeted by ‘TV Guy’ (real name unknown). He says to you “Hello Klaymen, Knock, Knock.” but no matter what you do, you cannot answer him. Whenever you enter this room, he just stares at you with his creepy, soulless eyes, swivelling around to follow you wherever you go, presumably awaiting your response to his knock, knock joke. What is this creature? Who trapped him in the TV? Why does he so desperately want me to answer that knock, knock joke?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but they’ll haunt my nightmares forever.
The Secret Cave
This is pretty simple, it’s the corridor to the next section of the Neverhood. To get through, you need to find three coloured buttons throughout this level, each corresponding to a lock. That’s kind of it, this is the last section of the hub world and it serves no other purpose. At least the cave looks nice.
From the Hub-World, progress is simple. When you head into Shit Narnia, you’ll find a music box. Winding it up starts off a cut-scene where you are attacked by a crustacean, bug monster called ‘The Weasel’. And here we find the second big problem with this game. All of the coolest action scenes are in the cut-scenes. Sure, it’s kind of fun to watch, and animated movies are what claymation is best for, but this is supposed to be a game damn it!
. . . at least the Willie Trombone bit is funny.
Once you kill the Weasel with the TNT dummy, you can find the first coloured button in the roller coaster section. TV Guy’s House & the Hall of Records have the other two buttons within them, hidden in separate rooms. There are some other puzzles and story disks to collect, but they’re really boring, so let’s move on. Once you’ve unlocked the Secret Cave, you head into the next part of the game.
The Neverhood – Downtown
This is the second part of the Neverhood. I call it Downtown because it’s down lower than the first Hubworld (it’s funny to me). Straight through the cave door you walk across a bridge, which spans a large, blue lake and across the bridge are a bunch of fun places you can go. Let me give you the tour.
Just past the bridge to your left, is a viewscreen that, when clicked, will show a series of symbols. This here is the third big problem with this game. You will NEED a Pencil and Paper.
That’s not a suggestion, that’s a rule. So many of these puzzles and mini-games are based on remembering long strings of symbols, numbers or patterns that the only way to complete the game is to write this stuff down. This viewscreen in particular shows a string sequence of eleven symbols, one of which is randomized.
Even if I could remember the whole sequence, I won’t remember that as well as the five or so other sequences, numbers, sounds, pictures and random puzzle solutions. Having to take notes so I can transfer information from one viewscreen to another isn’t a thrilling adventure game, it’s office data entry.
Bridge Control Room
The twisted, wormy background is cool, and you’re going to be coming back here every time you have to cross the bridge, so you’d better get used to it. At first there’s a fun little puzzle where you stack the pieces in the right order to put together a control mechanism which moves the bridge up and down.
But if you activate it at this point, it stops short and briefly flashes up a hologram showing the water blocking the way. You have to drain the lake. But how could you possibly do that . . . ?
With a Big Damn Cannon, That’s how! Oh yeah, this game just got badass. You don’t use the Cannon too much, and the aiming mechanic works a lot like the Hubworld’s clumsy navigation system, but it’s made fifteen times cooler, just because it’s a freaking cannon! Of course, when you first sit inside The Cannon all of the controls are safely locked and encrypted with alien symbols . . . except for the Big Red Fire Button.
One could argue that a gun safety mechanism which doesn’t lock the Fire button is pretty stupid. An argument proven true when the first thing I do is jump in the Cannon seat and press fire. Doing so shoots loose rocks that clog up the waterfall, stopping the flow and subsequently emptying the Lake.
You can now lower the bridge and head into the lake. Down there you’ll come across three more additions to Downtown, which I like to call ‘Downtown Lakeside’, because I have a terrible sense of humour. Let’s check those out.
Do you remember when I said there was only one way to die in this game? This is it. If you are stupid enough to jump down the hole, you die. I saved the game beforehand and jumped down just to show you this, so I hope you appreciate the kind of stupid crap I do for you people.
The Coolest Rollercoaster Ever
I wish that this thing existed in real life, because in this game alone it’s just irritating. It’s too easy to get lost, but you’re gonna explore the whole thing anyway, so I don’t know what this was meant for if not to test my patience. Also, keep your pencil & paper handy there’s more random crap to write down and keep track of.
Inside this radio station/science lab is a radio that will open the door once tuned to the right station. Don’t get too excited though, because you have to switch it on first. This is done through a combination of tedious memory games and backtracking. I got stuck here, and if you play this game and want to avoid getting stuck yourself I recommend either keeping a walkthrough handy or backtracking to Willie’s mailbox for hints.
Through the door you’ll find the science lab with an awesome shrink ray. Once you align the crystals properly, you can shrink yourself and slip through to the room full of statues. It’s very easy to get stuck in here, but with proper notes, you’ll know how to grow big again and find the button to drop the escape ladder. Up the ladder, you will find the way to the next section of the Neverhood: The Teleporter.
At first, many of the Teleporter buttons are locked, but they’ll unlock as necessary. For now, start by pressing the red button. This takes you to a strange little rock, that I call:
What you need to do here, is pull the big nail out of the rock, which is chained to a castle floating off in distant space. This isn’t as hard as it looks, since all the hard work is done for you in a cutscene.
Watch as the space castle swings back into place, and the two sections of the Neverhood come together to form one. It’s pretty epic, and the only cutscene that doesn’t bother me, since it’s mostly concerned with moving the plot forward, as opposed to taking control away from the player. Once it’s over, get back in the teleporter. I recommend you hit the orange button, this takes you to a distant rock that I call . . .
The Mars Arcade
This is sort of the third section of the Neverhood. On your immediate right, there is a guy hiding in what looks like a little beehive. I forgot to get a screenshot of him, but this Hive Guy, like TV Guy, serves no other purpose than to freak me out.
According to the format that I’ve been using for this article so far, I should now rattle off the major sites of this with pictures and a brief description. The problem is, there aren’t that many landmarks around here, so you just have to deal with this crap . . .
Mini-games from Hell
In the square building, you’ll find two mini-games which, in true Neverhood fashion, are mind-numbing and aggravatingly difficult. To the left, there’s the ‘Rat Race’ puzzle where you must navigate a mouse to his cheese using teleporting doors. This game requires either meticulous note-taking, or cheating.
The other game is ‘Memory Match’. You have to flip cards over, two at a time, to find matching pairs. This would be fun except every time you make a mistake, you have to start all over again. This game is impossible without taking notes, or an inhuman capacity for memory and patience.
The Cheese Room
Once you finish the mini-games/self-flagellation, you can access a room covered in melted cheese. It serves no purpose but to give you two more story disks, and a projector. Put the projector under the vacuum thing and activate it with the button on the floor. Before you ask me Why?, instead ask: “How the hell was I supposed to know to do that?”
Entering the twisty hut starts a cutscene where the building spins downward, killing a blue clay critter in the process. You then follow the only path to another cutscene where you’re brained with a hammer down into another room which I call ‘The Hammertime Chamber’. In this room, there are more symbols to write down and a teleporter. Press the Light Blue button, and you’ll be whisked off to Bil’s Place.
The Neverhood – Bil’s Place
After heading around to the screen, you will see a giant robot reaching for his teddy bear. This is Bil and his bear. You may remember these two from a picture on the Wall of Records. You need to give Bil his teddy by entering the code in the entry screen.
What’s the code? Well, you remember that impossible memory match game? Unless you’ve written it down (or have eidetic memory) you must now go back and count how many the symbols appear, and enter that data into the viewscreen. Having fun yet? . . . nah, me neither.
With Bil reaching for his teddy, you can go back to The Cannon, and shoot him in the face! Unlock the Cannon’s x- & y- axes with the symbol codes (found in the Hall of Records basement & the Hammertime Chamber) and shoot Bil.
With Bil incapacitated, go all the way back to Bil’s Place, and enter the square cavity on his chest to start up a very, very, very long cutscene . . .
In the course of this one cutscene, Klaymen turns Bil into a good robot; helps him retrieve his teddy and escape from the big pit; saves Willie Trombone from a second Weasel-bug monster; Bil opens a new section of the map; you alert the forces of evil to your presence; Bil gets attacked by a mechanical, velociraptor/pterodactyl monster; you loses Bil’s teddy bear to some pterodactyl minions; Bil throws the mechanical dinosaur monster off a cliff; Klaymen runs into the villain’s evil lair as Bil pulls up the portcullis & then we watch in horror as the villain blasts Bil with the Cannon, sending Bil & Willie Trombone falling off the cliff to their deaths.
Not only do you have no control during this seven-minute long cutscene, but the makers of the game have the balls to kill off Willie Trombone while I was powerless to help?! Assholes! I’d spend more time bitching about this, but we’re on the home stretch now, so let me give you a final tour of the last level.
Welcome to Klogg’s Lair! Who’s Klogg? He’s the villain, of course! Didn’t you know that?
Oh, right . . . you didn’t. Well, you’re told as much on those Story Disks. I hope you’ve been collecting them all throughout the game, because if you haven’t, then you are totally screwed. Once you collect the last few disks around the Lair, you should head up the escalator. There’s a viewscreen up there where you can watch the entire chronicle “The Closing of the Third Age.”
In a nutshell, the creator of the Neverhood is a benevolent god-king called Hoborg. Out of loneliness made a friend called Klogg, but Klogg, was jealous of Hoborg’s crown, so he stole it. But this was the source of Hoborg’s life-power, So Klogg was corrupted by the crown’s godly power as Hoborg fell into a deep sleep.
After you watch this story in its entirety, a bonus video plays in which Willie congratulates you and, in a scene that looks oddly familiar, Willie drops a key through the viewscreen which you need to escape. Isn’t it sweet that your fallen comrade still helps you from beyond the grave? Thank you, Willie Trombone.
Once you get the other two keys from around the lair (a simple task), you need to put the keys in the right locks in a mini-game. How do you know where to put the keys? Let me answer your question with another: Is that the same projector from few levels ago?
Once you figure out the key puzzle, you find another room with a trick puzzle in it. This puzzle is somewhat clever, so I won’t reveal the solution except to say: You have everything you need.
Now we come to the last part of the game. You come flying into an empty purple room, with a single door. This room only exists so you can save before heading into the final room, which is almost entirely cutscene.
When you enter the room, rather than fighting the villain in a boss battle, or anything else fun, Klogg takes you aside, gives you the crown and offers you a place by his side, as ruler of the Neverhood. The cutscene then pauses, and you have to choose: You or Hoborg
Do you want to rule the land with a tyrant, or be the hero and give the crown to the rightful god-king? I chose the good ending.
In the final cutscene, Klaymen runs the crown up to Hoborg, and Klogg stupidly kills himself when a rogue Cannon shot misses Hoborg and hits Klogg instead. Hoborg then takes you back to the Neverhood Hubworld, and creates dozens and dozens of people to populate the Neverhood. But as the newborn Neverlings frolic and dance, Klaymen looks sad.
Then Hoborg, as Klaymen’s reward, resurrects Willie Trombone & Bil the robot back from the dead! Or maybe he creates them again, I’m not sure. Either way, Klaymen is finally happy and everyone dances until the credits roll.
The Neverhood is an interesting idea with cool style & occasionally artful imagery. But the puzzles are often incomprehesible or near impossible; the first-person navigation mechanic is painfully slow; the amount of backtracking necessary to finish the game is just unacceptable; the abundance of claymation cutscenes in place of gameplay is palpable & I’m under the impression that the creators don’t know what fun means. Apparently this game was unpopular in 1996, but has garnered popularity with modern restorations. I don’t know why, as I have more fun cleaning and organising my desk than playing through this game.
But it’s not a complete write-off. The plasticine style looks nice, and a lot that can be done with it. I just wish it had better puzzles; less non-interactive cutscenes; better game/story ratio & a story that was more engaging. Alas, it was not to be. This game was poorly received, and Doug TenNapel made just two more videogames before abandoning the interactive medium. This is probably for the better, but I still have hopes for this kind of thing. I mean how many other games are there where you get to play as caulking putty?
Posted By: Matthew A.J. Anderson