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Claybook Review: Lackluster Puzzles in A Lovable Atmosphere

Claybook Art

Claybook offers an enjoyable, lighthearted atmosphere, but the game's environmental puzzles fail to stay interesting or satisfying for long.

Claybook is, if nothing else, pleasant. The game has players control pieces of clay to solve various puzzles in a sandbox-like environment. As they roll their clay ball from checkpoint to checkpoint, or route water (which is also made of clay) into the correct pools, relaxing music lends their problem-solving the air of a day at the spa. But it isn't long before that tranquil melody comes to resemble a lullaby. This is through no fault of the song's own, but rather because Claybook tires as whole. The puzzles quickly grow repetitive, unsatisfying, and incapable of providing enough support for the game's lovely atmosphere.

There are 20 levels in Claybook's campaign and they usually involve players guiding a chunk of clay that can shape-shift between four forms on the fly: a ball, a cube, a cylinder, and a donut. Each shape has its own strengths; the cylinder, for instance, is good at climbing stairs, while the ball is generally the smoothest navigator of open spaces. There are also sometimes objects scattered around the environment - a larger cube, a tiny sphere, a clay-rubber duck, and others - that players can possess when nearby. So beating a level may require placing a specific object in a certain place while keeping another clay vehicle close enough to switch over to afterward. And often, victory requires additional triumphs over the game's unwieldy camera and occasionally clunky controls.

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As players explore levels, they have two primary abilities available to them. With the right trigger, they can eat through whatever they're bumping into, allowing them to break walls and otherwise alter their surroundings. With the left trigger, they can rewind time, both moving their clay shape backward along the path it has followed and leaving a mold of the shape in the place where the time-reversal began. These interactions open up a range of puzzle options, like eating blocks of chocolate scattered throughout levels and rewinding time to leave doppelgängers in marked spots.

Claybook Gameplay 1

The game's two endless-runner levels, which have players hit as many checkpoints as they can within a time limit, are its best ones. There's a genuine excitement to blasting around the levels and figuring out how to navigate their terrain. But such highs are not the norm. The main issue with Claybook is that the scope of its challenges is quite limited. Once you've played a handful of the game's levels, it feels like you've played them all. (Except for a unique, truly infuriating one involving a rocket that this review won't say any more about.) Some of the later levels simply multiply the number of objectives they put forward - as in, fill these pools and guide an orb to that spot and eat this chocolate bridge - opting for quantity over quality.

At first glance, it helps that Claybook doesn't require players to fully complete levels in order to proceed through the game. They need only finish 50% of a level to move forward, at which point they're awarded up to three stars for their performance, based on how thoroughly they fulfilled the objectives. Timing only factors into online leaderboard placement. And although ensuing levels are locked behind star requirements, players are unlikely to lack the stars necessary to proceed.

Claybook Gameplay 2

All of that is fine and well, but some players might recognize that they rarely stay in levels for longer than they must. Which raises the question: if the campaign's challenges aren't rewarding enough to linger in, what's Claybook's draw? The game includes a level creator as well as the ability to share and play custom levels online. It's easy to imagine how Claybook's level building could appeal to certain audiences - like kids, for whom the game could be both entertaining and educational, thanks to the critical thinking that goes into making levels from scratch.

But it's difficult, at this point, to imagine the construction of groundbreaking creations, à la LittleBigPlanet, in Claybook. The game's campaign is itself an indication that there might not be room for that much depth. Regardless, Claybook's longevity will hinge on its ability to inspire players to make and play custom content. Perhaps, eventually, some clay-molding pioneer will produce something even better than what Claybook's designers have sculpted.

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Claybook is out now on Switch, and was previously released for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Screen Rant was provided with a Switch download code for the purposes of this review.

Our Rating:

2 out of 5 (Okay)
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