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Clover: A Curious Tale (PC) artwork

Clover: A Curious Tale (PC) review

"Clover wraps itself up in uniqueness: its hand-drawn presentation initially promise a light and cheery game, then it forces you to peek into the shadows and, by the time you reach the ultimately sobering conclusion, youíve found the murky darkness has suck up around you. Youíre drowning in it. And thereís no longer anything you can do but despair."

Clover isnít your typical video game. It was atypical last year when it was released on Microsoftís Indie scene and drew favourable reviews, and itís just as much so now that the extended PC version is available for all. Perhaps you can blame XBLIís limited file space for not displaying many of the upgrades present in A Curious Tale, including solid voice acting, animated portraits, extending the number of puzzles and the addition of multiple endings, but the heart remains the same. Clover, then, is what Braid might be if the budget were scaled right back.

Tom is alerted by a knocking at his door and a demand to open up. He could rush right for the key and follow orders, or he could take a moment to read the birthday card his mother sent him on his 16th birthday. Itís a bitter-sweet memory as, moments later, we learn heís been recently orphaned after the ship his mother had boarded mysteriously sank. The guard doles out an orphanís allowance then urges the young boy to earn his keep by discovering remnants of the ill fated shipís wreckage. He could do this, but several things stand in his way, none more so than an agitated farmer armed with a pitchfork and a zero tolerance attitude to people trespassing in his cornfield which, inconveniently, is the only way to get to the beach.

Trespassing leads to imprisonment, as do many other things in the world of Clover. Paranoia runs high amidst the whispers of war that reach into the sleepy village Tom lives in. If he sets so much as one foot onto the farmerís private lands, he goes to jail. If he uses water from the town well to quench the fire burning down his neighbourís home, he goes to jail. If he falls in a body of water and pollutes the kingís drinking source, he goes to jail. Heís let out almost immediately without cost, but itís more an attempt at cause than effect; his world had suddenly become a zero tolerance military state.

This harkens back to CloverĎs inspiration being a Hermann Goering quote the designer found scrawled on a wall in London, and, as such, the more Tom delves into the death of his mother, the more he discovers an underlying conspiracy borne of rulers with hidden agendas, blinded by what perhaps started as good intentions towards their subjects. Itís a creeping layer of darkness that belies the hand-drawn graphics, the wispy watercolour scenery and ambient piano music backgrounds. It slides in, slowly overwriting the playful attitudes of the townsfolk, like the cowardly stuntman wannabe you need to fool into performing his first daredevil trick or the overly-critical book reviewer tired of violent, gangster novels, and interested in something more friendly.

You curry his favour by presenting him with a book heavily referencing Codemasterís most famous egg-shaped adventurer, Dizzy, which is fitting considering the similarities between the two overlapping titles. To progress, Tom needs to solve puzzles in much the same way as numerous adventure titles; through items that can be collected and employed in abstract ways. Some of these are simple: to bypass the militant farmer, simply get him plastered on the cider an unruly teenager hid from his overly protective father. A limited inventory means you have to think ahead to which items you feel would be best employed. Capturing a spider isnít going to help you retrieve a valuable item from beneath the castleís drawbridge, but it might give your daredevil friend the fright he needs to complete his initial stunt and reward you with a new tool.

The political message manages to shine through the clumsiness of the odd platforming section and gives the gamer more than the simple sense of satisfaction needed to see through each puzzle. Clover wraps itself up in uniqueness: its hand-drawn presentation initially promises a light and cheery game, then it forces you to peek into the shadows and, by the time you reach the ultimately sobering conclusion, youíve found the murky darkness has suck up around you. Youíre drowning in it. And thereís no longer anything you can do but despair.


EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (August 09, 2010)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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wolfqueen001 posted August 09, 2010:

Man, this really does sound depressing. I think you did a good job portraying that, though the obligatory paragraph describing the puzzles and things kind of took me out of the somber mood the rest of the review had lulled me into. But I don't blame you for that; it's important to know what we're dealing with here, and if you hadn't mentioned it, I probably would've been wondering about it. (Though I will admit that the some of the graphic adventure aspects were well implied throughout earlier parts of the review, but even so, I still think what you did was good and necessary.)

Other notes: The Dizzy thing totally confused me because I have no idea what that is or who you were talking about that wrote it. (Though, it's entirely possible that it's just not something I'm remembering, especially if it's a children's book like it souonds like it is.) I'll have to check out that youtube link later; that kind of connection really does sound interesting though.
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JANUS2 posted August 10, 2010:

I think that the Braid line sounds better like this: "Clover, then, is what Braid might have been had its budget been scaled right back."
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EmP posted August 10, 2010:

How can you not know what the Dizzy series is? I wash my hands of you!

Thanks for catching all 101 typos. I purposfully put them there to see if you were paying attention.

I also agree with janus. That line has also been cut.
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honestgamer posted August 10, 2010:

Codemasters didn't have a license to publish its early games here in North America, so they weren't widely available. That's why I missed out on the early Micro Machines games, for example. I believe two or three Dizzy titles were released here in unlicensed form, though. And anyway, that was a long time ago. Forgive WQ, for she was probably 2 or 3 at the time. ;-)
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zippdementia posted August 10, 2010:

Hell, I was probably 2 or 3 at the time and "I" know what Dizzy is!

Though I have Yahtzee to thank for enlightening me, mostly.
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wolfqueen001 posted August 11, 2010:

Yeah, forgive me for not having a memory that doesn't extend to my infancy. lol

I guess I'll have to do the research now though, so thanks. >_>

....and this from the man who never ever drank hot chocolate...

EDIT: I read the first paragraph on the series off of Wikipedia. I've never played that series before, which, if what Jason says about it being primarily European is true, then it's not surprising. Instead, the games I played when I was little were Putt-Putt and Spy Fox. Have you heard of those? I bet you haven't. So there! =P
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Lewis posted August 11, 2010:

"were; there's a grammar rule behind that that I don't feel like explaining. >_>"


Subjunctive, basically. Hypothetical situations take "were", for no reason whatsoever.
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aschultz posted November 23, 2010:

This is a nice review--I mean, it discusses some dark stuff, but I'm not depressed--I like the references to Dizzy, etc, too. So I'm glad I clicked on the "looking for a good read" bit. I'm too cheap/lazy to buy new games but I can sit back nicely and imagine...

Wolfqueen, I played not only Spy Fox and Putt-Putt but also Freddie Fish and Pajama Sam. Those were some good games. Cheap, too.
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Masters posted November 23, 2010:

I also played Spyfox and Freddie Fish, with my nephew. Andrew: what's your excuse? =D
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aschultz posted November 23, 2010:

They were on clearance at Toys R Us, I think.

And I was feeling guilty downloading so many emulated games for free, I felt I should pay for a game once in a while.

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