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
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
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:
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
If you can find this game, play it.
P.S. Sorry about the drain! Hope you saved first!
4 BAAGS out of 5
copyright © 2002