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A few days ago while surfing the internet at work like the good employee I am, I came across a game called Gunman Clive. I did not think too much of it, but a few people mentioned how similar it was to Mega Man. Naturally I looked up more of the game and the $1.99 price tag sealed the deal. I downloaded it and 53 minutes later I started writing up a review. Needless to say this isn’t the longest game I ever played.
After giving the game a play I realized the internet didn’t lie to me, Gunman Clive is very similar to Mega Man. Every level in the game reminded me of a mechanic used in the NES games and the layout of the levels are reminiscent too, such as climbing ladders and the screen scrolling ahead of you. With that said, it is clear the developers have a love of retro gaming rather then just Mega Man and there are a number of titles from the NES/SNES libraries that popped into mind. Whether it is some gameplay mechanics from Donkey Kong Country or the ability to play as the damsel in distress character (Ms. Johnson) who has a floating ability like Peach in Super Mario Bros 2.
Usually I find when a game pays an homage to retro titles, the whole “homage” aspect gets in the way of actually designing a compelling game in its own right, but surprisingly (and thankfully), Gunman Clive still manages it make an impression and stands on its own as a great game. For every moment the game borrows from Mega Man, there are other times where the developers make unique levels and mechanics that I never seen before in any other platformer. It is a smart balance between paying tribute to the kings and crafting its own niche at the same time.
Each level throws in new and interesting challenges that never feel cheap. One thing I love the developers for is that they know how to teach the players without having a flow-breaking tutorial. When rolling on boulders are introduced, it is placed over solid ground with no other hazards, so you will have all the time you need to master it. In the next room the real challenge will occur with tricky jumps over instant-kill spikes. I love how retro games teach the player by playing the game, rather then having a pop up message stating what is going to happen.
Controlling Clive or Ms. Johnson couldn’t be any easier as the game plays perfectly. Jumps are tight and easy to control in mid air, while walking speed is perfect in regards to level design. There is a health bar in the game, but I found most of my deaths came from being knocked back into a bottomless pit Ninja Gaiden style. As mentioned earlier, Ms. Johnson is the other playable character and she has the ability to float slowly to earth for more precision, but she cannot move and shoot simultaneously. There is also a third unlockable character and it is worth a play just for how quirky it is. Spicing up the gameplay is temporary item pick-ups that range from a spreader, homing missles, bouncing bullets and more.
The presentation of this game is also solid and takes the form of sketch art on dirty paper. I was worried at first that the sepia colour palette would make it hard to distinguish platforms and objects, but like many other aspects in the game it is handled very well and I never had an issue with it. Enemies are clearly defined and are often a contrasting colour, as is weapon and item pickups. My only issue with the visuals is that weapon pickups all look too similar, making it extremely hard to determine what the weapon is. Thankfully, it could have been worse as all the weapons are good and none has that “meh” feel like many other action games. Like most 2D games, I found myself playing with the 3D effect turned off. I just don\’t think 3D has any added benefit in 2D games and while it may look cool in some, I found it pretty pointless in Gunman Clive. Rounding out the presentation is the stellar music. It mostly goes with the western vibe and it always fits the current situation. One tune in particular feels like its been lifted straight out of the NES and overall it is a great soundtrack that helps give Gunman Clive its own identity.
Remember how I mentioned the 53 minutes in the opening paragraph? That is no lie, I checked my 3DS activity log when I finished my first playthrough. I put emphasis on first because the game is designed in a way that it can be played many times over. With three playable characters and three difficulty settings there is a lot of variation to how to play. The game can also be very challenging and features no mid-level checkpoints, but it is alleviated by unlimited lives to ensure everyone can beat it if they buckle down.
Gunman Clive is the rare game that pays homage to the classics while also carving out its own identity that can be enjoyed by any gamer. It may take mechanics from other games, but it also introduces plenty unique ones. The visuals make it stand apart and the soundtrack is sure to please anyone raised during the “bit” days. It is a simple fun game that offers a stiff challenge while never crossing over into being cheap; even as I was cursing I still found a smile on my face. There are a few tiny issues and it did leave me wanting more, but at just two dollars there is no reason to complain. The only people I can imagine not enjoying it to some degree is if they just don’t like “pew pew” side scrollers or the colour brown.