Clock Tower (SNES)
(Note: This version was not released in the U.S., so for the purposes of this review, we used an English translation. Just bear that in mind if you’re looking to track it down yourself.)
Confession time: I am not the most patient of gamers. While I do have the endurance to wade through decent-to-mediocre games that I’m curious to see the end of the story, I have a decidedly shorter tolerance for games that I believe are seemingly out to test your bullshit threshold. This is why I refuse to even think about Stuntman, why I will openly drop f-bombs if somebody brings up Shadowgate 64, and why I got so frustrated with the first part of Fallout that I uninstalled it three times before finally getting into it recently.
That being said, I do not have much experience with the point-and-click adventure genre, largely due to their reputation of being some of the nad-bustingest titles ever made. But, I am willing to give just about any game a chance, even when there are giant flashing warning signs like “Japanese P&C adventure”, and the idea of a hybrid adventure/survival horror game is still intriguing to me, so I swallowed my prejudices and soldiered on…and it met pretty much all of my expectations…both good and bad.
You play as a Norwegian teenage orphan (?), who along with a group of friends, has been taken in by a nice old lady named Miss Mary and brought to her mansion. However, while you all celebrate this good fortune, Mary goes into the other room, the lights go out, a scream is heard, you go to investigate, and upon returning to where your friends were, you find them missing, and the shit, ’tis on. You investigate the mansion, and along the way, you will discover that Miss Mary is UP. TO. SOMETHING. Now, this being a survival horror game, there is an emphasis on cunning over combat, and there are no health meters, no weapons, and only one character that you could really classify as an enemy (who we will get to shortly). That being said, if you pop this in, be prepared to die. A lot. A LOT.
Yes, this is still an adventure game, and it’s not What Adventure Games Should Be. You can and will find yourself completely fucked because you missed an item that you had no idea had any relevance whatsoever, and you can even manage to screw yourself out of the “good” endings because you went in the right door in the wrong order. Oh, did I mention the ending system? Yes, allegedly, there are around ten or so different endings the game can have, depending on what course of action you take. In reality, nine of those ten end with you getting killed because you managed to fuck something up (PROTIP: Early in the game, you will run across a car with the keys in the ignition. Despite this being the most logical escape plan possible, and probably the first thing most people would do given this life-or-death situation, taking the car will get you killed.)
However, just stumbling and bumbling around the mansion waiting to be told you messed up somewhere and you got killed (again) would be awfully boring by itself, right? You kinda need something to push you along. Well, into this void steps the one enemy capable of killing you in an unscripted way, Miss Mary’s son, the infamous Scissorman (who’s actually more of a Scissor Schoolboy, but I digress. And died. I just died again.)
This little sumbitch will pop up in various and sundry places to harass you with his big giant gardening shears, leaving you with little recourse but to hide from him, run away, or, in case he catches up with you, furiously button mash to push him over and allow yourself a chance to escape. You can only push him away if your panic meter (basically shown by the background of Jennifer’s portrait) is low enough, otherwise, he will truck you and kill you. The panic meter rises as Jennifer is scared by things she happens upon in the mansion or by running for long enough, and the only way to bring it back into the blue is by pushing a button to pop a squat and cool off for a while. It’s not a major issue, though, as again, the Scissorman is the only thing that kills you outside of a set piece, and if there’s nowhere to run or hide, you’re probably boned anyway.
Now, I’m aware that I’ve basically spent this entire time bitching about how frequently you’re going to die in this game, and that’s a shame, because the atmosphere in this game is really good. The mansion looks appropriately dark and dank without being over-the-top like the Resident Evil mansion. The sounds of creaky doors and lonely footsteps build tension well, the music turns panicky and you’ll hear the click of Scissorman’s shears when he’s chasing you, and the designers did a really good job of portraying Jennifer as a scared teenage girl in a terrifying situation instead of turning her into The Only Man For the Job™.
There’s a bit of puzzle-solving required, but thankfully, most of the answers make sense (like using the meat found in the refrigerator to bribe the hungry guy locked in the cage…of course, if you don’t have the meat and you get put in the cage with him, he’ll kill you) In fact, the only real problem I have with this game aside from the difficulty is the relatively shallow story; you’ll probably be able to figure out for yourself that Miss Mary is evil long, LONG before the game itself admits it to you, and there’s only a bare-bones explanation of the how and why of this whole situation.
This is not an awful game, by any stretch. I’ve played far, far worse. But it is a game that nobody on Earth, no matter how careful or thoughtful they are, is going to be capable of beating on the first attempt, which to me, is the cheapest mindset possible when making a game. Clock Tower isn’t terribly long, but it’s stretched out due to it being so much trial-and-error (and error, and error, and error). And I’m far from the only person to get frustrated with it, there’s a classic video on the internet of the Japanese Game Master attempting to beat it, and even HE had to have a buddy explain how to actually do the deed. I’d recommend giving it a look if you’re a fan of survival horror or a mark for the ol’ point-and-click, but I’d also recommend wearing a cup, because you are going to get whacked in the jibblies quite often.
Really well-made console point-and-click adventure, very fitting atmosphere, cool concept for an early survival horror.
Since you were busy reading this, you forgot to find the scarf you didn’t know you would need and you died two rooms later. ENDING 7.
Too Scary For Rik?
We suspect yes.
6 thoughts on “Clock Tower (SNES)”
UGH. It’s 12 am, I need to be at work in the morning, and now you’ve got me watching this excellent Game Master video.
Anyway, great review! I laughed (then died). I was curious about how the first one played after playing the PSX sequel. I can see some elements shared between the two, but this sounds like… a curious concept. The worst of Sierra’s arbitrary “gotcha!” adventure style, with the added malice of a character who can smite you at random? That is an extra tough combination.
IT’S FUCKING HARD. Even worse, calling the different scripted kills “endings” just feels like a slap in the face. The best way I can really describe this game is, Resident Evil and such, you felt like you could do reasonably well and not get killed if you used your head. Here, the survival horror aspect kinda gets wasted because you pretty much expect to die.
Oh, and I need to mention, that first screenshot, the one with the bird? There’s something in THAT room that will kill you (and it’s not the bird).
I like the idea of calling deaths “endings”. Then you can be like, “have you seen the ending in Super Mario Bros where you hit the first goomba?”
Maybe we could call them finishes. As in, “Clock Tower is chock full of bullshit, Vince Russo-style finishes.” YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT, CMG! I’ve seen you comment over at Wrestlecrap!
Just to be clear, I didn’t mean to nit-pick at you guys about how “Clock Tower” classifies “deaths” as “bad endings”, it totally sounds like another aspect of stoopid-ness of clocktower’s design.
Which is a real shame, because the idea of having just ONE enemy, but only being able to slow it down long enough to escape when it attacks (and the “panic meter” as an energy type thing), is friggin’ brilliant; it’s sad they had to pad that out with the worst of “adventure game illogical cheap deaths”
(Also, SWERVE — I permanently gave up on WrestleCrap a month or so ago. They keep letting a few writers post Smark vs. Smark columns; for me it’s no longer worth visiting to read the good columns, because I invariably end up reading the bad columns too).
(This is supposed to be a reply, to CMG, but for some reason, it won’t let me actually reply…)
Oh, I knew it wasn’t a nit-pick, I was still in Aggro Mode after playing it, so that was a bit of levity probably buried by frustration…and yeah, the “One Unbeatable-But-Slowdown-Able Enemy” idea was pretty solid, and executed a bit better in Resident Evil 3, and I think the panic meter concept was around in a few other games, Clock Tower 3 comes to mind, but that game was fucked up…like seriously, “whoever wrote the story for this game was a sick, twisted bastard, and not in the good way” fucked up.
And I do tend to agree on the state of WrestleCrap. Since the site went to the new format, there’s been a shift towards making it a more mainstream old-school wrestling site (except for the actual inductions, which, sadly, seem to be written largely by someone other than RD Reynolds and focus on fairly recent WWE), and less focus on, well, WrestleCrap. I like some of the It Came From YouTube stuff, and I will go back and read the Rewriting the Book pieces, and the Classic Inductions, but aside from that, it’s not the same place.