I sat down with my five year old to try this game for the first time. The moment the tutorial loaded and we rolled our “not Playdough” ball around, my son started to giggle. I knew we were going to have an afternoon of silly surprises. The following hours were full of laughter, smiles, and a few frustrations. It’s never a bad time though when a kid can laugh uncontrollably and scream,
“I turned into…banana rocket ship!”
“Look dad! I’m a duck! WAIT! I’m a BUNNY!”
“Why am I a nom nom nom chocolate!?
You just can’t help but laugh when telling a kid to “Go eat that candy bridge with that huge marshmallow!”
The entire game takes place in a child’s play room on tables full of clay. You are a ball, a square, a sphere, or even the aforementioned rocket ship, controlled by yourself, but through a little boy avatar sitting at the edge of play table in the room. It’s a bit creepy as he just stares at the clay object you’re controlling, with no emotions showing on his face. My daughter (who is 3 and loves to watch us play games) said “He looks sad because he’s sad!”
His emotionless, dead eyes still follow every flick of your left stick. Something as simple as a small smirk on his apathetic visage would release the feeling of it being a pre-rendered, storyboard, creepy Pixar character. Seriously though, I’m half expecting to see toys in the background from Sid’s room.
Each level has a set of objectives to complete and when you complete them, a waypoint pops up with your “exit”. After finishing, you are rated with a star based scoring system on how well and how quickly you performed the tasks. Upcoming levels are unlocked using your earned stars in a very similar way that they are in Angry Birds. Locking progression behind this barrier isn’t very encouraging for a young child.
“I already beat the level, why can’t I do the next?” My kid asked me.
Having to tell a 5 year old they “didn’t do it good enough” just seems like bad parenting.
It’s also bad game design.
The progression lock is very steep right off the bat for a game marketed at kids. This could be eased up in a future update.
The control system also isn’t very intuitive. For example, every kid presses “X” or “B” or “A” to try jumping when they first play a game. Having to explain there is no jumping in this game, and that X pauses the game, then allows you to rewind and make copies of your current ball of clay, can be very confusing for a kid…or myself. I found that even if I continued to try and press a non-existent jump button while rolling around.
The camera can really be quite a hassle at times as well. In the video you can see how the camera gets “stuck” if your dough ball shape thing is in a weird location.
These frustrations aside, Claybook is really quite charming, and must be seen in action. Screenshots cannot give this game its due display.
The color palettes are pleasing, the music (although repetitive) creates a whimsically pleasant atmosphere, and a physics engine that’s truly fascinating.
It reminds me of the graphic and physics demos that GPU developers showed off throughout the early 2000’s. Playing with the alluring liquid dynamics creates a temptation to ignore the level objectives, and just carve around in the dough to see what happens.
The creative team at Second Order knew this and had the forethought to put in a sandbox mode that’s available from the start in any level. It’s an absolute delight exploring this game engine, especially in couch co-op mode.
Regardless of the games problems, I’ve found myself going back a few times this week (without my kids) to romp around the clay. It does make me feel like a kid again. I can almost smell the fresh opened plastic container of “clay dough” now.
Played on PS4 Pro (with a 5 and 3 year old “helping“)
Available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam.