A mechanical boy, a mysterious watch, a plagued world: Clockwork tells the story of a great mechanical city that is on the brink of never-ending failure. Four hundred years earlier, the world was diseased by a great plague that killed off all plants, animals, trees; essentially, most of life. The city of Watchtower survived only due to its mental fortitude and resourcefulness, its inhabitants building themselves metal bodies that combat growing old and the sickness.
Our unlikely hero is Atto, an eight-year old boy who spends his days, and nights, wandering around the clanking city of Watchtower, fixing the factories when they break down. Unfortunately, said factories have loads of issues, and as such Atto is constantly at work. One day at work, Atto’s pocketwatch suddenly opens, and out comes the celestial and mysteriously powerful spirit Milli, who proposes a quest for Atto to save the city from constant repair, once and for all.
Similar to other time-bending puzzle-platformers, Clockwork uses time manipulation to propel players through levels, to progress the story, and ultimately, to help Atto defeat the bosses. Atto has access to a set number of portals throughout each level, and every time you create one, you will generate a clone of yourself that rewinds to where the portal was created. The previous version of yourself repeats all the same actions taken before, which means you must use the other loops of yourself to flip switches, climb ropes, or move objects that weren’t accessible, or obtainable, with only one version of yourself out there. Boss fights are intense, with the huge, and truly scary, mechanical spider robot providing the highlight adversary of the game.
This sounds fine, in theory, but Clockwork suffers from some glitches that kept me at a standstill for a little longer than anticipated. The bugs, if encountered, are pretty much the source of any and all non-progression. Two times during my full play-through the level crashed and restarted my game, which would be fine for a more expansive game, but Clockwork features a minimal six-hour story. It’s also harder to accept due to the way you play: when using copies of Atto and portals, you can’t rework your actions. You either have to start the level completely over, or get it right the first time. I know that on multiple occasions I had issues with levels, but in order to try and rework the solution, I couldn’t go backwards – only restart. So if there is a crash, and you don’t remember all the places to place your portals or what items to grab, then you’ll have to painstakingly redo the level, which is a bit tedious. There aren’t any checkpoints, which I don’t mind from a challenging aspect, but some may be put off by this decision.
Thankfully though, in spite of any glitches or hiccups within the levels, the level design itself is stellar. There isn’t a whole lot of repetition, and the game uses your ever-growing knowledge of gameplay to create new, and ultimately exciting, levels to complete. The game felt organic and adaptive, and I found that kept me interested in its world and characters. The levels also change pace, so one area might make you methodically take your sweet time to complete it, while a boss level will require fast-paced, non-stop movement. My favorite levels, by far, were the ones that took the former approach.
Pair the design with fitting, enjoyable sound and the overall experience is definitely a pleasant one. The sound effects create a feeling of metal and machinery being the forefront of everything. The music tracks are relaxing and fitting; they’re nothing incredible, but do enough to keep you focused and awake with the task at hand. Sometimes with puzzlers, over-saturated, or frankly loud, musical tracks don’t focus me enough, so it’s good when a team finds the balance of sorts.
Of course, Clockwork holds everything together with its beautifully lit levels, along with a style and presentation that’s a perfect complement to the gameplay. The levels feature a different color palette than what’s traditionally seen, with vibrant, bright colors bringing a seemingly dull metal city alive. The shadows also give so much depth to the 2D side-scrolling platform plane, with huge beams and gears all over, creating a sense of scope and much-needed atmosphere.
The steampunk vibe is a hot commodity right now, and it’s a pleasure to see something popular still done very well. The visuals are all hand drawn, and that shines: throughout my time with Clockwork, I repeatedly found myself stopping at points to check out the fine detail of an iron beam in the background, or the hue of blue light coming from a shadowed lamp; it’s simply brilliant. Characters look good, albeit the robots are a bit limited design-wise. On the whole, everything looks sharp, and the graphics are Clockwork’s best selling point, aside from the puzzles themselves.
The story, as previously mentioned, strikes a balance between muddling and motivating, but really doesn’t do the world of Clockwork any justice. I liked the idea and premise behind it: young boy presented with an impossible task, finds help from mysterious power, and does what needs to be done in order to save his city. Truly, it’s reminiscent of becoming a hero, and in this day and age everyone needs that motivation. However, as much fun and interesting as that is, it’s simply not enough. The actions throughout my play-through tried to give me something to care about, but nothing ever did. Atto and Milli are somewhat interesting, but their dialogue is pretty dull, with typical conversations going like, “But would you mind if I… took you apart? Just a little, to see…” or, “I… I feel myself fading.” My favorite, in the same conversation aforementioned, was “I can fix you! Let me fix you”, which I heard at least twice.
At the end of the day, the story of Atto the mechanical boy and his newly-found powerful friend Milli in Clockwork does its best to warrant attention, but ultimately fails at keeping the interest alive. The story doesn’t have true closure and the game is short. Although bugs hinder some performance throughout, Clockwork is a gorgeous game, with exceptional lighting and featuring some unique puzzles. Fans of puzzle-platformers will find something to like here, but others may want to find their own mechanical cure as Clockwork tries to do.
To Waste Time or Not
Clockwork does its best to appeal to players on all fronts, but only succeeds in some of those areas.