There’s something incredibly pleasing about playing with clay. The feel, the smell, the endless possibilities that come with just a few different coloured lumps of squishy goodness. There’s a magic that’s hard to capture in games, mostly because the majority of the joy inherent in playing with clay comes from the tactile nature of it – it’s difficult to translate that into a form that feels right.
There are games that play on the notion of freeform creation and the near-endless possibilities that provides – most notably Minecraft – but there’s been little outside of the realm of relatively ordered creation with blocks.
Claybook, however, does its best to recreate the tactile nature of playing with modelling clay; though it’s not successful at everything it tries to do, one thing that’s definitely right is the look and feel of the physical substance. It’s appropriately squishy and even looks like it’s been moulded by hands; there are marks and prints all over the clay. It’s remarkably effective.
There’s a structured mode offering scenarios where certain conditions must be fulfilled in order to unlock the next level – using your clay object to ‘eat’ a certain percentage of chocolate clay in a level, trying to fill certain areas on a level with a flowing supply of clay or attempting to reach certain points on a level while attempting to traverse lots of precarious bridges and other clay obstacles, as just a few examples of level goals.
There’s also an open, creative mode that allows you to mess around with the placement of objects – and then roam around your created scenery – in what’s essentially a tray full of clay.
Initial impressions are really promising, given that the look of the game is brilliant. There are elements that let Claybook down, however; the camera is overly fussy and unhelpful – by default, it’s way too close to the clay object you’re in control of and even when you pull it back, the camera needs an awful lot of manual intervention. Given that you’ll be attempting to get across thinly constructed bridges and other features with your object, which is often difficult to bring to a stop (it seems to have a lot of momentum, regardless of the shape you morph into), this can be immensely and unnecessarily frustrating. There are a lot of controls to remember and – though they’re noted onscreen to make the game a little less frustrating – there are so many of them that it can be hard to find the right tool for the job at any given moment.
The physics of the clay in the game world can be disappointingly inconsistent – for every beautifully modelled, flowing waterfall and river of clay, there’ll be a static object such as a clay bunny whose pieces remain floating in the air, beyond reach, with you struggling to be able to reach and absorb them in order to complete the level. It’s disappointing and takes away from the tangible sense of physical substance that much of the game relies on.
Though Claybook is seemingly aimed at children (and even has a blank-eyed child avatar in the game, controlling your moving clay object along with you), there are some especially taxing goals in levels that mean it’s likely to simply frustrate younger players. For older, more experienced players – and despite the issues with the camera – the levels may prove to be too short. There’s a level of fussiness in the objectives at times that – coupled with the game’s physics and controls – can cause frustration even for experienced players; it’s hard, therefore, to really see who Claybook will appeal to.
All of those things aside, Claybook is undoubtedly a beautiful looking game – it is at least fun to just roll around and be creative with the joyously tactile clay outside of the main, pre-created levels. Had the aforementioned issues been ironed out, Claybook could have been a classic. As it is, there’s solid ground here to build on for a sequel and it’s incredibly impressive work from a small team. Let’s hope they get another chance to iterate on the formula.
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