What better way to kick off the new year in adventure gaming than playing a toy resembling Sackboy’s distant cousin? It may appear from the outset to be more kooky than creepy, but CLeM works to subvert expectations not only for the point-and-click genre, but a well-worn horror trope. In this game, the child is far more disturbing than her plaything.
Though rarely seen, the titular girl is ever present throughout, commanding you — the nameless teddy-thing — to perform tasks on her behalf. These take the form of attributes such as “Beauty”, “Determination” and “Loyalty”, each of which are represented by individual creatures that Clem wants you to bring to her. Determination, for instance, is portrayed by a snail which you need to capture from under the nose (well, beak) of a bird. Intelligence sees you trying to outwit a spider as it scurries around the compact house you’ll spend the bulk of your time exploring. There are plenty of these detailed in the book which acts as your journal and inventory, but you’re only tasked with collecting a subset of them before the game’s end.
Each attribute you fulfil and creature you deliver to Clem unlocks the next one, often alongside another portion of the house via a new mystical gadget or tool. A magnifying glass is used to search for clues in paintings, while a teleport device obtained fairly early on becomes a means to relocate to fixed points to save padding back and forth, as well as the solution to a puzzle. I never knew I wanted a point-and-click Metroidvania (or as the devs describe it, “puzzlevania”), but fast travel really is a boon for those with a low attention span or a deadline to meet.
That isn’t to say the genre’s staples are absent. Your inventory will soon get filled — but not overfilled — with items needed to capture each bug. Some of them will be things you need to separate, some you’ll need to combine. All of it is managed through a simple interface and a button press. There aren’t any drawn out asides of “that won’t work”, just a short, sharp buzz if you get something wrong. There are enough bits and pieces dropping into your bag to keep you puzzling, but not so many that a scan of your environment and some logical thinking can’t handle.
The puzzles are mostly fun to solve, too. Each new gizmo you get provides another gameplay element, such as a symbol-matching game, or a mystical master key you need to line up to break into secured cabinets and chests. At one point you’ll shrink down and navigate a series of gated areas, each with a slightly different twist; this wears a little thin after the fourth iteration, but is the only instance where less would have been more. The most cunning brainteaser came near the end in the form of a safe. Proper lateral thinking was needed to crack it but the “aha!” moment was incredibly satisfying. However, this was a rare example of a puzzle which wasn’t signposted as far as I could see with any sort of clue, and it might cause some grumbling from less patient players.
CLeM is also a game where the act of writing things down might be helpful. Your notebook gets filled with various scraps of paper, drawings and hints and you can call upon it to look through when solving most of the puzzles, but sometimes the solution is found more quickly when you take an active approach with pen and paper. Trying to figure out how to open a clock was an excellent example of this.
Completing CLeM will probably only take you two to three hours. It delivers some excellent brainteasers and the pace moves briskly enough to keep you engaged. In fact, if the developer wanted to, there is even scope in expanding it in a later version with more puzzles based on animals you don’t end up collecting from the catalogue. The soundtrack is suitably eerie, the controls are smooth and voice acting is sparse but reasonably well done. As for the plot, well, I won’t spoil anything here, but I clocked what was happening about an hour in and even then the ending (of which there are two possible options) took me by surprise for all the right reasons.
CLeM is the first game I’ve played from Mango Protocol (after seeing it demoed at AdventureX), and when the credits rolled it made me want to dig into their earlier work. Dark adventure games are certainly a niche, but it’s one that they’ve carved out with panache — and CLeM makes me very interested in their next twisted tale.
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