On the eve of Clive ‘N’ Wrench’s launch, we catch up with solo dev Rob Wass to reflect on his decade-long passion project.
Right up there with roguelikes and Metroidvanias, another old-school genre that continues to boom is the throwback 3D platformer. Yes, games in which you must carefully guide a character (often alongside a cutesy companion) as they jump, hop, or bounce from one scenario to another are firmly back in fashion, as indicated by Spyro and Crash’s recent-ish remasters and the several indie homages that followed. One person to have foreseen the style’s potential for glorious return is Clive ‘N’ Wrench developer Rob Wass, who first decided to do something about its absence some twelve years ago.
“Around 2010 or 2011 I’d been noticing how few 3D platformers there were on the market; it seemed the genre was all but dead,” Wass remembers. “I even went as far as creating a YouTube video outlining my disappointment that it seemed nobody was making the kind of games I like to play anymore.” Thousands of viewers unsurprisingly agreed with him, and the positive response to the video gave Wass the inspiration he needed to try and tackle the issue himself. “Little did I know, at the time, that this curiosity would result in a decade-long project!”
Even in Wireframe time, Clive ‘N’ Wrench has been a long time coming. When we first interviewed Wass for this section some four years ago, the graphic designer-turned-solo developer had ambitions for what he wanted his game to be, but was without a publisher and admitted to being “rather naïve”, even back then. The pace has picked up drastically since 2018, however, and now with Numskull Games on board to help bring this rabbit and monkey duo’s adventure across the finish line in February next year, a simultaneous launch on Switch, PlayStation, and PC is imminent.
There’s an understandable hint of frustration from Wass regarding Clive ‘N’ Wrench’s protracted development time. After all, the likes of Yooka-Laylee and A Hat in Time have since released to modest acclaim, yet he’s confident there’s a slice of the platforming pie still to be eaten. “It’s funny [because] from my perspective, it’s really the first of that [genre],” he says, “but for better or worse, it isn’t the first to release. Having said that, I think more than most of its peers, Clive ‘N’ Wrench leans far more into the large, open explorable areas of something like Jak and Daxter or Spyro, mixed with some of the more complex combination moves seen in games like Super Mario Odyssey. You’d also be hard-pushed to find a game with as many awful puns as this.”
Pun proficiency aside, Wass cites the game’s time travel element as being a key differentiating factor for Clive ‘N’ Wrench, too. After being given a job as his cousin Professor Nancy Merricarp’s apprentice early on in the story, the titular duo are thrust together under the same roof and forced to form a bond. Cut to the blueprints for Nancy’s time machine being stolen by the power-hungry Dr Daucus, which gives Clive and Wrench the perfect excuse to traverse no fewer than eleven distinct worlds in an effort to get them back. More than just a loony premise for a family audience, stretching levels across different time periods helps ensure that this 3D platformer is never short of visual or design variety.
Surely making eleven environments each look and feel unique is a tough prospect? “Not particularly,” Wass enthuses. “I think the time travel element naturally lends itself to a wealth of interesting places to visit; if anything, the tough part was keeping the ideas focused on just those eleven. Any time I got stuck, I could just delve into a history book and get inspired by places that actually existed once upon a time.” Most often, this technique led Wass to combine several times and places within our own history. “For example, the 1930s ‘Cajun Mob Bog’ world combines New York-style Italian American architecture with a New Orleans-esque geographical setting. [Then there’s] the rather counter-intuitive Christmas-themed prehistoric level, where you can use dinosaurs as platforming elements and meet the rather jolly woolly mammoth, Father Noelephant.”
Between two failed Kickstarter campaigns, development being partially funded by Patreon backers, and an entire global pandemic to deal with, Clive ‘N’ Wrench has overcome more challenges than even the pluckiest of platforming heroes. That said, with the end finally in sight, Wass hopes that long-term supporters and new fans alike won’t be disappointed by his throwback to a nineties genre so beloved by so many. It won’t be just Wass closing a life chapter, but also everyone who has patiently anticipated the game’s release for well over a decade.
“I’ve been developing Clive ‘N’ Wrench fairly publicly since 2011, with the original release announcement being for winter 2020,” reflects Wass. “Rather unfortunately, this coincided with the time Covid really started throwing wrenches into basically everything on the planet. For Clive, that’s meant bottlenecks spanning from cancelled convention appearances, to extended manufacturing timelines and even difficulty finding the right studio to help with console porting. As such, to actually be finally looking at the finish line now does feel great. Though of course I’m nervous to see what people finally think after such a long wait, and even longer development.”