Adventure games are one of those genres that missed me. During their heyday, adventure games were without a doubt some of the biggest and most resonant titles on the scene, but that scene in particular was typically PC gaming. As a child I was exclusively a console player (I can remember our first desktop PC, a hideous yellowing box that could just about run an old packaged-in city defense game) so now I feel like I’m very much behind the curve when it comes to rediscovering genres that I’d always felt were out of my reach. Thankfully, we live in an age of resurgence, with ever more titles released which seek to throw back time and hearken to the nascent nostalgia of the developers; just as console games are seeing a plethora of platformers like A Hat in Time and Shovel Knight, so too it seems are independent developers still making adventure games that look to remind players of the LucasArts and Sierra titles of their youth.
Clam Man (PC)
Released May 2019 | Developed / Published: Team Clam
Genre: Adventure | HLTB: 2 hours
With that preamble, enter Clam Man. This is a game which bills itself as a game about its narrative and writing first and foremost. Indeed, it proudly proclaims that it isn’t a game which offers much in the way of challenge or puzzles, and that certainly is true. One thing I do know about older adventure titles is that they were pretty into throwing puzzles, weird action sequences that didn’t always quite work within the confines of the game interface, and (sometimes) the threat of a gruesome instant death animation at their players, but that’s not Clam Man’s jam. Instead, it’s an experience which wants to draw its players into exploring the world and interacting with its characters. The developer notes that their favourite aspects of adventure games were the stories and the jokes, so it’s not a surprise that Clam Man is primarily focused on its sense of humour and the extravagant level of remarks, flavour text, and conversations that can be found within the aquatic world of Snacky Bay.
You might have surmised from the title alone that a game named “Clam Man” may not be winning the award for the world’s most serious game. You’re right – again, one of the professed goals of the game is to present a narrative underpinned by a strong sense of humour; in the case of Clam Man, the comedy is often surreal and absurdist, which once again perhaps you could have guessed by sheer dint of playing a game about a man who is also a clam. You just don’t get serious games about that. Probably.
Anyway, Clam Man is a game that tries to make you chuckle, and it does so with some pretty zany jokes. Comedy is obviously very subjective and what makes one person laugh might make another groan and roll their eyes. I confess, I find surrealist humour pretty hit-or-miss; for it to work for me, I like my off-the-wall jokes to be fast-paced and delivered manically – think, Ross Noble, for example, or Robin Williams’ standup. That kind of delivery is hard to capture in a videogame, especially one that wants you to stop and take in the journey, and so as a result not a lot of Clam Man’s humour elicited much in the way of laughs from me. Randomness and kookiness are one of those genres of humour that is very internet-friendly, but I find it so rarely lands for me when stripped of the energy of a live performance. I’m also just not massively into the brand of random comedy that the internet loves so much; often it’s peppered with pop-culture references, and I inevitably find that tiring, and although a lot of Clam Man is creative, there are definitely points where it finds itself slipping into referential humour. The ending is a particular offender, but it’s by no means the only point in the game.
That’s not to say it didn’t get a few chuckles out of me. I couldn’t help but snort the first time I saw a set of gangsters walk by, clicking their fingers like they were extras in Bugsy Malone, and there’s one extended conversation with a particularly savage security camera where each line was more heartless than the last and it really got me. A character at the start also stuck with me, a sweet old lady with a plethora of figurines; every line of questioning you have for her lets you (maybe deliberately? I choose to think so) incorrectly guess each figure, and every time she erupts into fits of insults and it felt so much like conversations that I’ve had on the internet that I couldn’t help but chortle. On the other hand, some jokes simply don’t land, and others go on for far, far too long past the point of mirth – the most memorable example was a song which starts up at the end of the prologue, a little number which kicks poor Clam Man when he’s down by reminding him that he’s a deadbeat who just got fired. Now, this was indeed very funny when it started, but then it carried on for a further two verses; it was funny the first time, but not the subsequent ones.
Of course, there’s also got to be a plot to tie all these jokes together. After he’s fired from his job as junior sales rep at a mayonnaise company, the eponymous Clam Man becomes convinced that his former boss is up to no good and begins to uncover the threads of a conspiracy that takes him into the seedy underbelly of his home. It’s actually quite a fun story, if I’m honest; it manages to balance using tropes and familiar ideas to shape the story while also throwing in a few kooky curveballs along the way. Perhaps the main problem is the pacing. You can easily blaze through it in under an hour or so but that’s not really the intended experience; you’ll get a lot more from it by stopping to examine things and engage in chats with everyone you can, but in doing so you’ll kill the pace of the plotline. It’s an awkward balance and more than once I felt pressured to stop faffing about and continue the story.
I also want to take a second to talk about the puzzles, or the lack thereof. One point in the game actually gives you the choice to set the difficulty of a puzzle you’re presented with, which I feel like is played for laughs a bit but it’s genuinely a fantastic idea and a great win for accessibility. At least one dialogue is framed like a puzzle, but I don’t think it actually was, which I suppose is a net okay thing. In grand adventure game tradition there’s a section of the game where you have to engage in some backtracking between two points to free a guy from some rope, and it was about as riveting as that sentence was to read, and another part of the game features a classic inventory puzzle where you combine bits and bobs to advance a situation. If this all feels a bit, well, bitty, that’s because it is; rarely does Clam Man want you to engage with a mechanic more than once. Chalk it up to the game not being built around solving puzzles I guess, but it’s still a bit of a missed opportunity.
In a word, I guess Clam Man is okay. You can’t argue that it doesn’t live up to the developer’s intent; they certainly succeeded in an absurdist story-driven adventure game, but unfortunately it doesn’t really do anything for me. Writing humour is hard, especially across the length of a game, and especially when you’re choosing to do something as out there as surrealism. The developers must have known it was going to alienate a chunk of their potential audience, so I respect Team Clam for sticking to their guns with it. Mechanically the game is perfectly fine, so if the comedy works for you, this is probably worth a spin.
3/7 – MEDIOCRE.
A game that makes you go, “Well, it’s alright…” but it’s a kind of drawn-out, unsure, and reluctant decision? These are those games. Might just be worth playing if you can get it on the cheap.