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Clunky Hero Review

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Calling yourself ‘Clunky Hero’ is like squaring up to reviewers and saying “have a go if you think you’re hard enough”. Developers Chaosmonger Studios are lifting up their shirt, waiting to be punched in the gut, staring us dead in the eyes. It’s as ballsy as calling a game ‘Crap Game Simulator’ or ‘Just Another Metroidvania’. 

It was only going to go one of two ways, really. Either Clunky Hero was going to be smooth as a baby’s bottom, a slick experience that laughed in the face of ‘Clunky’; or it was going to be a shrug of the shoulders that, yep, said they warned us. Place your bets on which one you think it will be. 

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Clunky Hero doesn’t have an auspicious start. It can’t get its story-ducks in a row. Sometimes, the plot is that your wife Brunilde has been taken captive; other times, she has been transformed into a duck-faced selfie-taker. Even with an opening cutscene, it’s not clear because, well, the developers are more interested in popping jokes about how ugly Brunilde is. 

Clunky Hero is definitely a wisecracker. You can chat to people in Clunky Hero, often about your wife, and dialogue will run for far longer than you might expect. Too long, if we’re being honest, and we pride ourselves on reading all dialogue in a game. But our biggest gripe is that it feels like it’s been written by the lovechild of Andrew Tate and Butthead. When a fart, poop or masturbation joke isn’t slithering out of Clunky Hero’s mouth, it’s a rant about SJWs or why women just won’t do what they’re meant to. And you can probably guess what Clunky Hero feels that they are meant to be doing. 

You might argue that Clunky Hero is a character, and that character has every right to be a deluded and unlikeable bigot, but the world doesn’t take him down a peg. He’s mostly allowed to froth away. And we’re the ones who have to spend time with the grumpy bucket-head, which we’d rather not. But we are fluffy liberals, so take it with as many pinches of salt as you fancy. 

Game-wise, Clunky Hero is that most popular of genres, the Metroidvania. Some things from the template are dialed down while others are dialed up: there’s less focus on guidance, as you’re given free roam of a reasonably sprawling world; and there’s fewer paths that can’t be crossed without a future upgrade. You won’t have to do a huge amount of memorising of the map, when it comes to “where on earth was that chest that needed a double-jump?”. But there’s plenty of combat.

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The formula will be recognisable by anyone who’s dabbled in indie games from the past five years. This is a 2D game where you stray into larger areas that are themed around swamps, dungeons, towers and forests. Within are plenty of enemies to skip past or kill, as well as secrets (mostly tucked in the corners of each room), and maps that will reveal the full area on a quick press of the Pause button. 

Your task is to keep pushing at the edges of the map, and gain access to new areas to continue your adventure. Eventually, you will hit the fringes of the map where a boss awaits you, and killing it will – more often than not – lead to an upgrade that you can then use to backtrack and open up a whole new part of the map. The process continues, with bigger, harder enemies and plenty of opportunities to use that new double-jump, dive-smash or swimming ability. 

Lanterns act as save points, so you’re not constantly dying and having to retread your steps, while, very occasionally, you might trip over a molehill which acts as the fast travel. With a few coins you can zoom back to the opening hub (shops, the odd quest giver and some smaller dungeons), which is mostly useful for restocking your inventory of breads, beers and fart juices, which top up your health, MP (useful for casting your own projectiles) and activating the odd special ability. Oh, and there are ‘tit mountains’ which can be suckled on to recover every stat. Whether you laugh at that is a good barometer of whether you’ll get much fun out of Clunky Hero. 

Combat is the lion’s share of Clunky Hero’s gameplay, and it’s okay at best. You have a single attack for the first half of the game, and it’s a tad stumpy. You’re mostly judging the reach of your enemy, and making sure you’re standing just outside of it. Some enemies have a projectile or larger swing, so you’re watching for an – admittedly well telegraphed – tell, so that you can walk out of the way. There’s no roll or evade, really, so it’s not what you’d call a ballet. 

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Latter upgrades help a bit, like a magic blast that uses up your MP, but they’re implemented a little – gulp – clunkily. Firing while you’re mid-jump, or firing anywhere other than directly ahead of you while standing on a flat surface, is a shoddy experience. Whether you cast it at all is erratic, and it has lag that isn’t seen elsewhere. 

The platforming and exploration, though, is all fine and actually quite enjoyable. The areas are lengthy old beasts, and are split up into five regions or more. Grabbing a map item in a treasure chest is always a joy, as you can tally your experience of the area with the one on paper, and see what you have missed. There are plenty of treasures to find, and some are attached to quests, which offer up cash, booze or new weapons. Always welcome. 

It’s the rules around exploration that we’re less enamoured with. Move into another region and the enemies will respawn. Die, and they will respawn. Fast-travel, enter an NPC’s hut and perform any interaction that doesn’t involve simply hacking or walking, and they will respawn. We understand why, but it does mean that there’s a lot of mulching the same enemies over and over in rather joyless combat. When there’s no XP or skill tree to make the grind beneficial, and only the odd coin as a reward, you can sometimes feel like you’re chopping down trees rather than participating in an actual combat system. 

The same goes for the persistent health bar. Save at a lamp and, when you die, you will return with the same health that you started with. ‘Tits’ are rare, so you will constantly be nursing a low health bar, which would be fine if respawning creatures dropped any food or drink. Or if save points were common, which they’re not. Too often, we realised that the best approach was to save by backtracking through old regions, as that was the last lamppost that we passed. Even killing a boss doesn’t save the game: it’s absolutely possible to die post-battle, and find yourself ten minutes back, two regions away, with low health and all the enemies, including the boss, respawned. It’s enough to rage-quit or put a bucket over your head. 

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Bosses are fine, if a tad spongey. It’s like the Clunky Hero balancers have realised that there are items that could make a boss ‘piss-easy’, as Clunky Hero would say. Items make you invulnerable, faster or stronger. So, they balance the boss to have a surplus of health points in response. Except you can’t see the health bar to know that you are making progress, because it’s not shown on screen. The waves and phases of the bosses are well designed, but these issues bring them down. 

That title was always going to be a challenge to shake. With so many good Metroidvanias out there, spilling out of Game Pass on a weekly basis, Clunky Hero can’t help but feel slow and cumbersome in comparison. It’s large, dense, and at its best when you’re exploring but, in every other way, Clunky Hero succumbs to its name. 

You can buy Clunky Hero from the Xbox Store

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