[Every Thursday is Retro Day at Gamer Limit, so kick back and enjoy the classics. Feel free to check out our full schedule right here!]
After reviewing Amanita’s flawed masterpiece, Machinarium, not too long ago, I found myself hearkening back to my childhood days, where I constantly immersed myself in point-and-click adventures. Day of the Tentacle is still one of my favorite games of all time, and it will always hold a place as one of the integral titles that moulded me into the gamer that I am today.
The Neverhood may not have had such an immense impact on my younger years, but it certainly struck a chord visually and creatively. Rarely do I come across a point-and-click nowadays where I don’t compare it to Doug TenNapel’s 1996 classic.
If you have never experienced The Neverhood, read on to discover just how much you are missing out on.
The Neverhood could easily have ended up as a “Tales from the Bargain Bin” piece; and, honestly, it wouldn’t have looked out of place. TenNapel’s game may have received critical acclaim from several reviewers, but the fact of the matter is that it simply passed by most gamers. It’s an unfortunate reality, especially when you consider that TenNapel was the character designer for Earthworm Jim.
That said, The Neverhood has a rampant cult following, with countless websites built for the sole purpose of praising the genius of Doug TenNapel. I won’t go so far as to douse his feet in perfume, but I am more than happy to commend the man for his exceptional work.
The Neverhood begins like most oddball adventure games: without any idea of where you are, who you are controlling, and what the hell you are supposed to be doing. Klaymen, the protagonist, is your vessel through the Neverhood world, and you must use this goofy, half-duck, half-man to figure just what is going on.
For those who have already experienced Machinarium, you may be perturbed to discover that there are no easy cheats to help you progress through the storyline. Where Machinarium restricted you to specific puzzles on each screen, The Neverhood gives you a fair amount of freedom, which could frustrate a lot of gamers who are simply looking to complete the game.
If this is you, then stop and listen. For myself, The Neverhood was never about finishing the game; in much the same way as Machinarium, it became more of an experience than anything else. Kooky music, exceptionally designed clay characters, and mind-bending puzzles to keep you interested are all simply decorations. The essence of the game is in its ability to transport you into its world. Even thirteen years after its release, The Neverhood still manages to capture my imagination, and encase me in a ridiculous world filled with incredible quests and creatures.
As you progress through the game, you will find yourself picking up small video cards. These cards are used as an informational source for Klaymen, as he refrains from speaking until the very end of the story. Your idiot cousin, Willie Trombone, is your guide throughout the tale, who relays facts about the world and gives hints as to what you should do next.
When I first started playing The Neverhood in primary school, it was with one of my best friends. I’d head over to his house on a Saturday morning, and we’d revel in Klaymen’s crazy, animated world. However, our main goal was always to try to find a way to kill our hero. This wasn’t out of any morbid curiosity; rather, it was in reaction to several infuriating features throughout the game.
There are some developers (*cough* Peter Molyneux *cough*) who, if given the freedom, would simply go too overboard with every facet of their games. That’s why the majority of commercially successful games are created by a diverse team of professionals.
The Neverhood’s production, however, was run in more of a dictatorial manner. Doug TenNapel had absolute power over everything that went into the final cut, and, unfortunately, the game suffers from it.
There are few things more tedious than travelling across vast worlds without the aid of a horse or vehicle. Morrowind countered this problem by implementing the Silt Strider – why walk, when you can ride? Mr. TenNapel, on the other hand, must have gleaned excessive pleasure from knowing that his gamers would be forced to walk across dozens of screens in order to collect a necessary piece of the puzzle.
Another frustration that the game could have done without is the long-winded cutscenes. While some are necessary, and even humorous throughout, several are there simply to be aggravating. Case in point: the fruit tree. I honestly sat next to my computer for several minutes while Klaymen let out the longest burp in the history of man – sounds funny, right? It isn’t.
Despite these childish flaws, The Neverhood succeeds at what it sets out to be: a thrilling, engaging, and ultimately challenging game that is sure to live on in your memory long after you have finished it.
With the recent release of Machinarium, and the episodic revival of Tales of Monkey Island, there has never been a better time to pick up this piece of point-and-click history. If nothing else, marvel at the sheer effort put into such an underrated game.