If I were a game developer, I’d hate to get stuck with making a launch title for a new console.
Yes, it can be glamorous to be front and centre upon the release date of a much hyped machine, and there’s also the attractive prospect of knowing that you essentially have a captive audience who are going to hoover up your game. After all, it’s not as if there’s going to be much else on offer, and they’re going to want to justify their new purchase by actually playing something on the new hunk of wires and plastic that they just spent roughly a month’s wages on.
However, with the added prestige and advantages that come with being there on launch day also come numerous traps that a lot of launch games sadly see themselves fall into. For a start, you instantly have less time than other developers to both get your game on the shelves as well as get a good grip on the hardware you’ll be working on to produce the game in the first place.
There’s no doubting that those who get to release their games after launch, as opposed to at it, are at a distinct advantage when it comes to making a better game. Ultimately, they just have more time to make the game they want to make and have more of an opportunity to get to experiment with the hardware on offer to produce as slick and polished a game as possible. Considering how famously fiddly the Saturn was to program for, the latter was near essential to making a truly decent game.
It also didn’t help that SEGA brought the launch of the Saturn forward to try and get the jump on Sony’s PlayStation machine, meaning that games like Virtua Fighter and SEGA Rally were released practically incomplete, and games like Panzer Dragoon were forcibly delayed due to SEGA jumping the gun. Both Virtua Fighter and SEGA Rally eventually ended up seeing re-releases in their finished forms further down the line, but the launch of the Saturn, especially in the west, had been one giant botch job from the very start.
Thus we get to Clockwork Knight, a thoroughly bang average platformer with some near eye-bleeding visuals that saw its release with the launch of the system itself. The visuals themselves were a byproduct of being a launch title, as SEGA wanted to show off the capabilities of their new machine by displaying polygonal characters, bright colours, and FMV sequences, all while under the very safe premise of it being a 2D side scroller.
Considering Nintendo and Sony were both very quick to get 3D platformers on the market in the form of Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot, respectively, SEGA going for the tried and tested 2D formula, with odd dashes of faux 3D thrown in for good measure, should have been the first warning for fans of the brand that SEGA just didn’t have their fingers on the pulse in regards to where the fifth generation was going.
What’s worse is that if you put the aforementioned platformers together, Clockwork Knight is by far the most dated, most unoriginal, and most ugly of the three. Yes, Mario and Crash also show their age somewhat, but there is also a timeless quality to both of them that SEGA’s effort just lacks. The fact that there have been no real calls for HD updates to Clockwork Knight kind of speaks volumes as to why it finished a distant third when put against Nintendo and Sony’s platforming heavy hitters.
What also doesn’t help the game is the stiff and awkward controls. I’m not going to say that I didn’t experience frustration on the odd occasion while navigating the 3D worlds of the other two games, but the control systems in both games at least felt responsive, if not always 100% accurate.
In Clockwork Knight you have a jump button as well as an attack button. Playing as the bumbling toy knight Pepperouchau, you have to rescue a fair maiden who has been abducted by dark forces while traversing rooms in the house and taking on bosses. Pepperouchau can also run, but rather than simply holding attack down and moving as you’d do in the Mario 2D games, instead you have to tap the D-pad twice in the direction you want to run in. Not only is this fiddly, it is also unreliable and makes running a chore.
It doesn’t help that Pepperouchau just feels heavy and unresponsive in general, except for when he jumps at which point he just feels hollow and flimsy. Thus, platforming itself becomes near torturous at points, especially on the train level in world 2 which becomes more an exercise in luck than any real skill. Also, there are no checkpoints, and the levels are pretty long, meaning that if you agonisingly die at the end of the level, you’ll then have to traipse through all of it all over again right from the beginning.
This game got some high scores when it came out, but it also got some 60% scores in some circles, and I personally think that’s a fair shout. The game isn’t broken or anything like that and plays just well enough to not be any worse than “meh”, but it also does little to drag it any higher up the placings either.
There are some nice effects on the bosses, the boss battles themselves are relatively fun, and there’s a pleasant enough ambience going on throughout the game, but there’s not much else to recommend it. You could easily give this game a miss and your life would be no worse off for it.
As always, I’ll post some game footage below.
Thanks for reading
Until next time;
Come On You Blues!!!
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