Written by  :  David Mackenzie (48)
Written on  :  Dec 05, 2003
Platform  :  PlayStation

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A pretty good port of the excellent Windows 95 title - but, I said, PORT

The Good

The Neverhood is a game (or, game series) that needs no introduction to a select few individuals. Graphics age, technologies advance, but even today, it's still one hell of a technical achievement. Nothing will ever step in front of the fact that the game took over three tons of clay to make, and the same goes for its bizarre humor.

And here's where the love/hate thing starts. There is next to no gameplay in here - just point and click to solve puzzles. There's no interaction with other characters, and no dialogue, except in one small area of the game. It's just you in a huge, demented world, so most of the appreciation comes from soaking up your surroundings. However, when there are puzzles, it's clear what you have to do and usually pretty fun too. Riverhill have seriously changed the feel of this game by speeding things up for the PlayStation version. Klaymen moves at at least double the speed he did on the PC game, and slow paced plodding transition videos look more like fast walking now. I didn't really care either way, but die-harders may feel that the original feel of mystery is somewhat spoiled by this.

The FMV sequences also, are superior to the PC versions. They appear to be direct recordings of the PC clips, however the conversion process appears to have hidden the majority of video artifacts originally present. I'm guessing original high-quality masters of the cut-scenes weren't available to the developers - but they've done a damn good job with what they've been given.

Sound was always a strong point in this game. So, how has this handled the PC-to-PSX route? Not too badly - although once again, it's not of as high a standard that the original's was. It's noticeably scratchier, which really wasn't too big a distraction for me and still carried over most of the audio pretty favorably. Sadly, one of the funniest musical tracks, the credits loop, has been cut short. The PC version features Terry Taylor breaking into a hilarious screaming rant, but cuts out right before on here. It's still pretty funny nevertheless.

The Bad

With the fact that this is style over substance, it's a pity that the brilliant graphics here aren't of the same standard as the PC version. The beautiful clay-sculpted graphics appear in this version at a lower resolution to its PC counterpart - inevitable given the PlayStation's weaker video capabilities. While I'm no expert on the PSX hardware, I'm not entirely convinced that the colors couldn't have been carried over without appearing slightly muddy in parts as they do here. A few changes have been made here and there... items you can pick up, such as video discs, have been expanded in size for ease of clicking with the chunky mouse pointer on a low-res TV set.

Other graphical niceties which helped add to the overall style of the PC version aren't present. For example, the letters your friend Willie Trombone leaves you in your mailbox really do look like they've been carved into pieces of clay on the PC version. For the characters on the Japanese version, they're just in plain black and have been slapped over the space. There are other times however, where good graphical editing has been done to achieve the original style.

Even presentation-wise, the port feels a smidge rough round the edges. The PC's menu that was made of clay has not been replicated for this version - surely airbrushing the English text and carving Japanese characters in wouldn't have been too hard? Instead Riverhill have added a more console-styled black-backed menu with a few options, one of which is a Background Music Test which is a nice, if a little pointless addition. The PC version of the game featured a short documentary video called "The Making of the Neverhood" that played when you clicked the "About" button. Again, corners have been cut and that isn't on this version - would it have been that hard to subtitle the video for Japanese players?

There is also the added distraction of load times between different screens in the game. The waits themselves aren't too annoying - but what is very mildly harsh to the ears is the fact that the current room's background music starts playing again after the load. I'm guessing that pausing the music between screens and playing it from where it left off would be technically impossible on the PSX because of the small-ish amount of system memory, leaving it no space to buffer the music track in.

The Bottom Line

It's highly likely that huge Neverhood fans will want to pick this game up. Keep in mind that it's very hard to come by, but if you can find it and are Neverhood crazy, by all means go for it - it's an awesome addition to your collection. The Neverhood makes little sense in English anyway - that's part of the appeal - so the Japanese voices and text should be no problem. The strong point of the game has always been it's brilliant visuals, which are shown here in most, but not all of their former glory. On the other hand, if you've never played this game before and are all set about getting it, spend the money on trying to find a used copy of the PC version, since it's superior and is in full English. But if you've played it to the death, and really care about this slab (no pun intended) of gaming nostalgia - then buy both.

Overall: 8/10: A great game that could possibly have been ported with a little more care. People wanting to experience it for the first time are better off hunting down the PC version. The high score for what I described as a relatively rough port is for the games' sheer style alone - something that would be very hard to obscure.