The Neverhood

 

Developer:   The Neverhood, Inc.

Publisher:    Dreamworks Interactive, Microsoft

Released:   1996

PC Requirements:   Pentium 75, 8 MB RAM, 1 MB VRAM, SVGA monitor, 4xCD ROM, 8-bit sound card & speakers,10 MB available hard disk space, Windows 95.

Walkthrough   Walkthrough   Walkthrough

 

 

by Becky

The opening to this game is daftly surrealistic. Swirling lines of clay morph into a squarish block with strange, crooked towers popping up on top. Forms keep bursting from the clay -- a hand holding a struggling Gumby-creature, a monkey swinging on a vine, a crown lit from inside like a lamp, and the face of Klaymen, the Ultimate Hero (or Villain) of the game.
This is The Neverhood. Picture a Never-Never clay Wonderland built by avid devotees of Nick Park (the genius behind the "Wallace & Gromit" claymation series). The Neverhood features a quirky protagonist whose chief talents include shrieking, shrinking, burping and running away.

You begin to get a glimpse of the true character of the game near the beginning when you find a tree with berries that Klaymen can eat. These berries, when taken in threes, contain the most concentrated, long-lasting carbonation in the universe. You watch, fascinated, as they have their way with Klaymen. The nuances of the noise produced are spellbinding. You wonder if it will ever stop. Finally it does. Then, against your own better judgment, you give Klaymen another berry.

Klaymen is -- well, I'm not quite sure what he is. It isn't clear until the end of the game that he is even sentient. The sole evidence of his intelligence is embodied in his actions and facial expressions -- expressions of horror or perplexity or surprise. He has three lines of dialogue in the game. (One example: if you take too long to solve a puzzle, he removes his head from his body, waves his other hand at his face and says: "Beep, beep, beep").

There is a wacky claustrophobia about this game. It's almost as if the gameworld is still packed inside the box. Or maybe The Neverhood really exists entirely in the mind of Hoborg, its block-headed creator. Or perhaps the game world is stuck in an alternate dimension where un-Disney cartoon characters must "find" themselves while performing goofy feats of valor.

A word about "The Neverhood Chronicles". These are stories carved into a seemingly endless wall along a seemingly endless passageway. The Hoborg chapter gives a bit of back story to the events in the game. Mostly, though, the "Chronicles" are unrelated, absurdist red herrings. (A sample: "And the sons of Harpinbarpin were Pies, Budd, Labopunky, Noebiz, Hana, Nosh B'Gosh, Reeze, and Nashid. And the sons of Budd were Iroh and Mamoh; and the Natol's sister was Annie Nitnitnit.") Since you can only read a small wall section at a time, the whole process is clumsy and exasperating. Plus, there isn't a single clue or puzzle hint in the entire lot.

I've been trying to figure out why the designers inflicted this terrible wall-reading exercise on the player, and the only thing I can come up with (other than, well, WHY NOT do terrible things to the player?) is that the whole thing is a satire of adventure games that don't use cutscenes or dialogue, but cram all the plot exposition into diaries and journals. I can easily picture the Neverhood design crew playing "Myst", reading Atrus's journals and saying to themselves: "Why on earth do I have to read page after page about these peculiar tree-dwelling things?". Anyway, my advice: unless you have A LOT of time on your hands, slouch down the passageway to retrieve what's at the end; take a peek at the view out the window (such as it is); but don't bother reading the writing on the wall.

I liked the game music very, very much. It is comprised of short rhythmic tunes featuring a nasal blues-style masculine voice and simple, often nonsensical lyrics. It has a thumb-your-nose-at-tradition quality to it that fits the style of the game. I love the place where you encounter the sliding tile puzzle, for instance, and the music begins to moan: "Everybody, wail".

I didn't experience a single glitch while playing. The game is entirely mouse-driven. Important Note: when you reach the point in the game where you can jump down the drain, ignore the warning signs and take the plunge. Do not question my motives in telling you to do this. It is impossible that I should ever mislead you.

After you win (or lose) the end game, be sure to listen to the music as the credits play. Remain perfectly still if you can. You can extend The Neverhood experience slightly by clicking on the "About" button in the main menu for an eye-opening short film on "The Making of The Neverhood". (Do not do this if you feel queasy watching a grown man throw up after chugging four quarts of fruit punch.)

There were two things I found disappointing about The Neverhood. First, the cutscenes are pixelated (though this is understandable, considering the age of the game). Second, although some of the puzzles participate in the game's wacky creativity, (the radio puzzle springs to mind), others do not. Maybe challenges that seemed new and different at the time the game was designed have since become hackneyed. For instance, there's a sliding tile puzzle, a matching-tiles memory game, a mouse maze/pathways game, a matching musical tones puzzle, a find-a-disk-in-various-locations challenge, and a strange sideways maze on a cliff. The maze is standard stuff, though it IS fun to watch Klaymen sliding around the cliff surface in his weird little bumper car.

Despite these negatives, there is nothing out there, no other game I know of that is quite like The Neverhood. It isn't just that the gameworld is made of clay -- it's also that the entire game is over-the-top; it is peculiar, outrageous, and maddeningly engaging.

If you see screenshots of the game with its bright, solid colors and simple shapes, you might assume that The Neverhood is for children. However, the opposite is true. This game is much too good to waste on children. There are so many odd things happening in it and the gameplay is so frequently complex, unexpected and tricky that the overall feeling is one of wild exuberance and tongue-in-cheek sophistication rather than innocent simplicity.

If you can find this game, play it.

P.S. Sorry about the drain! Hope you saved first!

Final Grade :  4 BAAGS out of 5

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