Every once in a while you get an itch. Maybe that itch is for a brand new experience, other times it’s for that safe and comfortable gameplay. Lately, I’ve been dying to play a beat ’em up. I wasn’t about to play Castle Crashers for the 100th time, so I needed something new, and luckily Clan N came along. While I wasn’t expecting much from this smaller indie game, I was pleasantly surprised coming away from it. And after a couple of playthroughs, I can safely say that my itch has been scratched.
The story of Clan N is almost non-existent, at least from what you as the player can see. When you open up the game, a short cutscene plays showing what looks like an evil sorcerer destroying a town, and then you are off to seek vengeance. For a game like this, you don’t need a deep story, but I found it wild that when you head to the Steam store page, you get all of this information about spiritual imbalance, dark powers and conquest. You even get some backstory for each of the four characters you can play as, and their relationships with each other. It seems like it could have been an easy thing to add this information to the character select screen, and that would have helped to give the world that you fight through a bit more character. While the decision to not include this information in-game is an odd one to say the least, as I mentioned, story in a beat ‘em up game isn’t important. What matters is the combat, and thankfully that works pretty well here.
Combat is quick and fluid with Clan N. In its brightest moments, it felt akin to the Arkham games, where you bounce back and forth between enemies, coming out unscathed. Combos for the most part are easy to pull off. Using your light attack, you can build up your charge meter to then unleash a heavy attack combo. The effects are different depending on when you decide to use your heavy attack and empty your meter: you can juggle enemies and slam them back down to the ground, slice back and forth between multiple enemies, or smack them prone.
There is a lot of room to play with this system. Some enemies are going to be resistant to juggling, while others are going to be adept at blocking your attacks, so whenever the enemies pop out of the bushes to attack you, you have to be ready to adjust how you are going to engage. And something that this game excels at is it’s rather varied enemy types. Of course, there are a fair number of colored reskins, but towards the end of the game you’ll be fighting bowmen, sorcerers, spiders, horsemen and more. And the amount of enemies help to keep each engagement feeling unique, which is important as there are two campaign modes to go through.
If you decide you want a shorter adventure, you’ll still fight through the seven levels, however some sections of those levels have been either cut out or shortened. In addition to this shorter campaign option, there are also mini-games that you will encounter throughout to help break up the constant combat. Both the mini-games and campaign options are a welcome addition to a genre that can sometimes become a bit stale on multiple playthroughs.
But while the combat and level structure are entertaining, there are some parts where the game doesn’t hit its mark. Some combos feel much harder to connect, specifically those launching combatants into the air. And there are occasions where they will connect but seem to cancel halfway through for no reason. It could become frustrating, especially later on as enemies get more and more powerful, because when in the air most enemies can’t touch you. An unconnected combo won’t just deal less damage, but also leave you open to attacks you otherwise would have been safe from. On top of this, despite having four different characters, the moveset is essentially the same between them all. Every combo you can do with Reina, you can do with Daiki, despite them having different weapons visually. While there are a couple of differences, they are mostly relegated to your stats and magic.
And that brings me on to the magic system; something that I found myself hardly using throughout the game. It’s charged up by potion bottles dropped by bosses or hidden in crates, but their drops are so infrequent I have found myself going through the entire campaign only having enough magic to use a couple of times. On top of that, it is an all or nothing system. Your magic bar has 4 sections, and if you have it 3/4 filled, you have to use it all. Because of this I ended up saving it for the bosses with harder movesets. A fully charged magic bar can easily knock out more than half of a boss’ health in one hit, so it felt wasteful to use it on the many grunts you face off against. Each character also has a unique animation for their magic. You can summon tornados, dragon fire or even have gigantic fists punch up through the earth. While visually nice to see, especially Reina’s earth fists, I never noticed the abilities behaving differently.
The other main difference in Clan N is found in your starting stats. When you start the game, each character is going to have different stats for speed, strength, endurance, special and charge. To be honest, I never found that this breakdown allowed for super distinct playstyles, especially considering that by the end of the game, you will likely have maxed out close to three of these stats. But the progression system works well enough for what it is, and the variety in your starting stats do allow for each character to feel unique for the first couple of levels.
The only real issue with this system is what is left unexplained. While charge, speed and strength are fairly easy to understand, endurance and special takes a little more time. As I learned, endurance increases the amount of health that you have. But as you level that up, your health bar doesn’t change in appearance at all, so unless you start taking a lot of damage, it’s hard to decipher how much you may want to invest in that stat. As for special, I still haven’t figured out what that increases. It may increase either your magic damage or your throwing dagger damage, but I wasn’t really able to tell.
This lack of clarity extends into some other portions of the game as well. For example, it’s nearly impossible to tell when you are going to gain a skill point. It’s attached to your score, but never made clear just when you are at that point of leveling up. And similarly, while you have three lives, it is confusing as to when you are going to get a game over. Sometimes, when I ran out of all of my lives, I had the option to pick up from where I was slain with no real penalty, and other times I received that game over screen and had to start a section over again. A little bit of clarity in a couple of different areas in this game would have gone a long way.
Creamative has put a lot of work into Clan N on Xbox One, and it shows. Not only does the game both look and play great, there is a solid amount of content available. Not everything is a home run though. The obscure nature of what some stats do, and when you level up, can make things tedious at times. But between the seven levels, two campaigns, and mini-games that are found throughout, there is enough here to warrant the asking price. In the future, if I ever get another hankering for a beat ’em up, I can definitely see myself coming back for more.