Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked My World – #25: The Neverhood

In PC, PlayStation on January 30, 2013 at 5:10 pm

Today’s post is by…me! Jon Gracey. Finally pulling my finger out.

———

Title: The Neverhood

Format: PC, PlayStation

Released: 31st October, 1996

Neverhood_box_art

Or: Wallace and Gromit via biblical quantities of acid.

The Neverhood. Part claymation adventure game, part existential psychadelia-tinged nightmare, it’s not a game to be played by an eleven year old.

When I was eleven I played The Neverhood. My uncle Johnny worked in Hong Kong and occasionally he’d send games. Hong Kong had a prosperous piracy scene (sadly only in the illegal-copying-media-side, not rum and pieces o’ eight) and sometimes these thin, card CD slips would appear containing enticing, label-free discs within.

At eleven, any game with an animated bent was sure to catch my eye, and titles like Innocent Until Proven Guilty 2 introduced me to the “combine-poisoned-cheese-with-racist-mouse” logic of adventure games. Their slow methodical pace allowed my vaguely completist tendencies to blossom as I slowly scoured the static environments for clues, obessively clicking on each successive pixel like a young Howard Hughes but also a massive virgin.

Willies_room

The Neverhood is the brainchild of Doug TenNapel of Shiny, who made weird and wonderful titles like Earthworm Jim 1 & 2 and MDK. Anything from this stable was bound to be interesting, and with Spielberg’s recently-formed Dreamworks Interactive behind them, the stage was set for big-budget, 15 frames-per-second stop-motion adventure. Made with 3 tonnes of clay*.

You play as Klaymen, silent protagonist who wakes up a room, with no explanation. These were pre-internet days, and I didn’t have a manual because I’m a piracy-lovin’ freeloader, so I had no idea what was going on. The first puzzle: pull a lever to activate a massive acme-esque mallet to smash open a door. Oddly enough, on the inside of the room. This sums up the logic of The Neverhood.

First_room

Gameplay is pretty standard, split between side-on, beautifully created rooms – where you locate objects and solve puzzles – and first-person Myst-esque on-rails exploration, where you silently slap your clay-y feet through a desolate wasteland. What brings it alive is its atmosphere: the outside, black-skied environments utterly still apart from the odd howl and whistle of unseen beasties. It’s super-creepy, and fantastically bleak.

Move inside, and the music starts. Now then. Brace yourselves.

The Neverhood has the best videogame soundtrack of all time.

Truly.

Listen to it right now. As you’re reading this. Terry S. Taylor pulls out all the stops to bring a psychadelic, freak-folk rockabilly whistlin’/coughin’/laughin’ monstrosity of a tracklist, which cements the anarchic weirdness of the game. I have fond memories of jamming with musical autastic Jay Foreman (who wrote a lovely article on Prince Of Persia) in our flat during the Edinburgh festival; to this day the only other person I know who has played this game. We groaned and whistled and coughed the days away. It was brilliant. (See if you can spot songs from The Neverhood in this AND this!)

I want to dance to this on my wedding day. Don’t tell my girlfriend.

First_person_view

Seemingly to coincide with its stark, weird aesthetic, the game is intent on trolling you mercillessly at every possible moment.

Early on there is a corridor upon whose walls (which are fucking legion) is told the genesis of The Neverhood (the world of The Neverhood, stupid). It’s at least 50 screens long. You have to laboriously click through each one, as Klaymen slumps silently along. No music, intentionally. In order to finish the game, you need an object that is at the end of this corridor. You can almost hear the game chuckling into its stupid, and presumably clay, coffee mug.

If you’re interested, here’s how The Neverhood began. I don’t dare read it. I still get nightmares about that corridor stretching off into infinity, the dull thud of Klaymen’s feet puncuating the echoing silence. Brrrr.

Hall_of_records

Then there’s the burp. If you click on a certain tree three times, this happens. This video has not been edited.

Troll, troll, troll your boat, gently down the stream.

Finally, despite the numerous terrifying threats that face you in The Neverhood, you can’t die. Apart from at this point:

Drain

It may as well be a massive red button.

The Neverhood has a timeless quality to it. The graphics still look sensational (though the cut-scenes are of a ropey resolution), the music is unmatched, and there’s a lovely streak of silent-movie logic to its physicality. Even despite the obtuse puzzles and the fact that the game is obviously getting off on your sweet, creamy rage, it’s a total gem.

At an early age, its wilfully odd world of puzzles drew me in, and the creepy atmosphere struck me as totally unique. Brilliantly, 16 years on, they still do and it still is. As I’ve mentioned before, the mid 90s were not kind to the adventure game, with the 3D shooter and real-time strategy genres taking the plaudits. The Neverhood was cruelly overlooked, selling a mere 42,000 copies. This is a damn shame.

Klaymen_sad

You can find it on eBay, but it’ll cost you hella money. Get the demo here and see what all the fuss is about. There’s nothing like it these days – it has a weirdness, oddness and beauty all of its own. By god it’ll fuck with you, but you’ll thank it for the privilege.

Don’t play it on acid.

*This is true.

Addendum: I’ve just found out this is a thing. If you need me, I’ll be dribbling excitedly in a corner.

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