After a months-long drought of new releases for Xbox Live Arcade, Microsoft promised a new game every week for the latter half of the summer. Its definition of “new” is a bit creative — three of the first four titles have been remakes of arcade classics. Updates of Frogger and Galaga mostly serve notice that nostalgia ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. An almost perfect port of Street Fighter II: Hyper Fighting suffers only because the Xbox 360 control pad is not up to the task of replicating the arcade machine’s six-button control layout, and on-line play is a stellar touch. But the fourth new game, Cloning Clyde, is an original — in more ways than one.
DON’T TELL THE PRESIDENT: Clyde can clone himself and even splice his genes with animals.
There’s been a trend among game developers since the advent of the 32-bit era to make their protagonists dour anti-heroes. Solid Snake, Sam Fisher, and Kratos seem biologically incapable of cracking smiles, and they laugh only in low, mordant chuckles. Clyde, on the other hand, is a clueless oaf whose pursuit of some quick cash gets him trapped inside a sinister cloning experiment. Despite his drooling demeanor and his wide-open hospital johns, he proves surprisingly adept at battling killer robots in hand-to-hand combat.
Although the game features many of the obstacles endemic to the 2-D platformer — ladders, water, levitating spiky things — it’s really more of a puzzle game. Only by creating clones of himself can Clyde open doors that lead to escape. Most puzzles require several Clydes to stand on top of a scale, or to spread out and each activate his own button. Swapping between Clydes is a breeze. Pressing Y drops play control into a floating cursor that you can guide to the Clyde of your choosing. Or you can simply cycle through them all by hitting the B button. As the levels get more complex, riffling through upward of 16 identical characters never gets repetitive.
Clyde can also splice his genes together with the animals that populate his world. Frog-Clyde is an excellent swimmer; Sheep-Clyde can jump long distances; Chicken-Clyde can fly, since his wings have not been clipped. And Clyde can merge with a barrel of dynamite and run around exploding on command. If that’s not enough variation for you, note that it’s fairly easy to unlock different looks for Clyde’s standard form, like a 1950s sci-fi robot or Frankenstein’s monster.
Although Cloning Clyde’s visual style and goofball nature recall some of the best aspects of 16-bit side-scrollers, the game also presents a few problems we haven’t seen since that era. I can’t remember the last time play control was an issue. Clyde generally does what you want him to, but once he goes airborne he’s almost impossible to guide. It’s infuriating trying to scale several floating platforms with a character who bucks in midair like a rodeo bronco. Jumping puzzles make up a very small portion of the gameplay, so the problem rears its head only in a couple of levels. What could have been a crippling flaw turns out to be a minor annoyance.
Cloning Clyde is the first Xbox Live Arcade release since Geometry Wars to capitalize on the potential of the platform. The arcade revivals have their place (seriously, though, what did anyone ever see in Frogger?), but the promise of new, independent games is truly exciting. And if Clyde can help usher in an era of more good-humored games, the world will be the better for it.