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Clock Tower (SNES) artwork

Clock Tower (SNES) review

"Terrible Controls, Confusing camera angles, limited saves, limited ammo, cheap thrill scares, does anyone know of a game made before all that became mandatory in a horror game, well I do: Clock Tower, is it any good? please read the review and find out what I think. "

For those of you who care I have to level with you, I love horror games, be they survival horror or just plain old games with horror themes…well the ones I have played anyway. I also have to say this…some of the most popular scary games actually do not affect me in the slightest, some of the common tropes in survival horror games: the limited saves, the sparse ammo, cheap jump outs and the disorienting camera angles (I’m looking at you resident evil) just aggravate me. No the scariest games to me are the ones who give you chills rather than thrills for me that is the first 3 silent hill games, the 2 Forbidden siren games and the focus of this review, Clock Tower.

Clock Tower is a SNES game released in 1995 and only in Japan (I dread to think of what would happen if the game WAS released in America or Europe) meaning that to play it you must use the fan translated ROM hack floating around the internet or if you can read Japanese spend a lot of money for even a loose cartridge, I believe the prices often range around the €40-50 range (that’s around $50-60 for Americans) for a loose cart, add another 20-30 of your currency for a box, and now onto the game.

First up the setting, we are in the Norwegian countryside and some girls from the local orphanarium are being sol-…lure-…adopted by a local rich old recluse named Simon Barrows in his enormous estate somewhere outside the local village (as you do). One of these teenage girls is your character Jennifer Simpson, after being brought into a large greeting room by Simon’s wife Mary. After she leaves the room to get some ice cream the girls wonder why they aren’t getting some ice cream love and you are sent out to find her, you leave the room and hear screaming, go back and you find that all of your friends are gone and worse…the ice cream was a lie. Now it’s up to you.

The game is played as an old school point and click graphic adventure with a screen featuring your character and a cursor used to control the game world, a somewhat unusual undertaking for a video game console and you know what? No you don’t but you can guess, it works, using the control pad to control the cursor is actually perfectly intuitive and some little improvements mean that it’s remarkably easy to play this game, whenever you move over or come very close to a hotspot the cursor automatically changes and moves over the object to be used eliminating a couple sources of frustration, 1. knowing what you can/not control, 2. accuracy: the hotspots are remarkably large meaning that you aren’t going to constantly fumble around trying to target whatever needs to be used. Long story short, despite what you may think the point and click style of this game does not fail due to the hardware, however I would have liked to have seen some SNES mouse love.

Jennifer moves based on whether you click or double click an area to define whether you want her to run or walk (or the shoulder buttons) running however has one major problem, you lose health by running, your health is rather ingeniously shown by the character portrait on the bottom of the screen, it’s meant to be a measure of your mood, blue=calm, red=near heart attack, running or seeing various disturbing phenomena lower your mood, leading to you tripping over your own feet more or worse, there is one very major part of gameplay that I haven’t gotten around to rambling about yet. Bobby.

Bobby is the main antagonist of the game, a disfigured little boy dressed in somewhat Edwardian style clothing and is often called Scissorman because he is a bit of a freak in the bedroom…lol jks it’s because he wields a huge pair of gardening shears and he really wants to show them to people…especially you, you meet him semi randomly throughout the game, in most rooms there are areas where he is coded to appear…but they won’t always be active every game, leading to some real fear throughout the game not only on first playthrough but on subsequent plays because you can’t always be sure if he is going to appear in a room or if he is going to appear THIS TIME. You will always know if bobby is around because he loves his shears so much he is constantly opening and closing them, the sound can be heard every time he is present along with a genuinely heart stopping “song” which if like me you first heard it whilst playing with headphones on and lights out will make you wet yourself. If he catches you Jennifer enters “panic mode” a kind of adrenaline rush indicated by a seizureific mess of colours on Jennifer’s portrait only cureable by mashing b…maybe if your health is sufficiently high and this is the only form of retaliation you have in this game, if you value not getting carpal tunnel syndrome more than saving Jennifer, Bobby will dance his little jig and move towards you as the game fades to it’s game over screen simply saying “dead end”, thankfully you can continue an unlimited number of times from basically where you left off. There are a few ways to get away from bobby, either by running away enough or by hiding in one of the many nooks and crannies of the mansion you are skulking through, thing is Bobby is smart, if you suddenly find a favourite hiding spot enjoy it while it lasts because he will eventually get wise to your hiding places and you may find yourself thinking you are safe on the other side of that large wall but suddenly bobby may drop through the ceiling and straight onto your head.

Bobby is also responsible for the fates of your friends, the first time you meet him will always be after stumbling upon what he has done to one of your friends, an unavoidable thing unfortunately, though you can in essence “prevent” some of the girls deaths if you don’t see them happening…think of it as a kind of Schrodinger’s orphan experiment, the girls you don’t see die will influence your ending.

This game has a pretty large number of endings, especially considering it’s fairly short play time (less than an hour if you know what you are doing), the endings range from A-H with a special hidden S ending which is extra difficult to unlock, some end with Jennifer and possibly some of her friends leaving the Clock Tower mansion alive, pretty much all the others are endings where Jennifer dies horribly or at least more creatively than usual and finding them adds a lot of replay value to a pretty linear game that and a few other things. I’ve mentioned that Bobby spawn points pretty much work when they want, sometimes a room will have it’s point active in a particular playthrough or at least that time you enter a room, but what about if the mansion’s layout changes from game to game, some locations in the mansion are set in stone but many of the more important item containing rooms shift throughout the mansion and even some of the items I have noticed can be in slightly different places sometimes (though I could be mistaken about that) this makes the game quite replayable and means that it’s quite difficult to breeze through the game like a zombie like I find I do sometimes.

The graphics in this game are nothing short of phenomenal, I would expect that however from a game released right near the end of the SNES lifecycle, the character sprites and backgrounds are immaculately detailed and are realistically coloured, the game looks to me like a very high quality VGA adventure game for a PC or an AGA amiga game which is a very, very good thing, the quality of the graphics is simply that good, all characters move fluidly and the character portraits used when speaking are again wonderfully detailed and lifelike, there are also some cutscene like events used during some important scenes are also present, mainly the scenes where you find one of the girls killed, they are also very well one but are not well animated, frankly I doubt they WERE animated they are just individual scenes that are faded one after the other. To be honest artistically I find this game to be better than most of the polygonal games of the time or even of the games sequel released on the playstation (in the same way I think Zelda: link to the past looks artistically better than ocarina of time).

Sound is…hmm it’s very good but very sparse at the same time, there is almost no music except from some unremarkable music used in the intro, a simple tune present in one room that is played from a music box and the Bobby tune played whenever he is chasing you that I have already gone over, apart from that the game is pretty much silent except for the various sound effects present like Jennifer’s footsteps or Bobby’s shears, thing Is silence is a sound too, some of the best people in the horror business know that, for example silent hill 2 is a very quiet game at the right times and that heightens tension, it’s the same in this game, the sound effects are pretty mundane much of the time, footsteps, a clock ticking etc, but that changes instantly when Bobby appears, especially since his music explodes at the beginning and it will genuinely terrify you.

Overall Clock Tower Is a unusual game, mainly because it was a point and click adventure game but done on a console and done well, it’s also something to pick up because it is a genuinely terrifying horror game made before resident evil coloured the genre with it’s terrible controls and action oriented atmosphere, my only complaints are that it’s a bit too short and there is no save feature except to store what endings you have achieved, It’s slow pace will probably turn some people off too, but if you are intrigued give it a try, the fan translated version is all over the internet even though the original has become really rare and expensive now.


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Community review by maboroshi (January 26, 2013)

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