Once upon a time adventure games were a dime a dozen, and PC gamers especially had loads of point and click options to choose from. Whether you were a fan of Gabriel Knight or Leisure Suit Larry, there was always something story based to play. Like all genres though the popularity of these games slowly faded away, until a lovely indie resurgence filled many hearts with nostalgic joy. Clem is maybe a little more focused on solving puzzles than telling a narrative focused story, but its offbeat charm will certainly hook you in if you’re looking for something different to play.
At the start of the game you’ll find our nameless protagonist slumped on the floor of a dingy basement, and upon closer inspection of the back of your head you’ll spot a zip. That’s because the main character of Clem is a magically animated doll, who is tasked by a young witch girl with finding a variety of bugs that are associated with certain words. The book you wake up next to will help you figure out what the bugs you need are, and once you know what you’re looking for it’s time to set off exploring the house.
The entirety of Clem takes place in the home of the little girl you’re doing chores for, where she lives with her mum and dad. It doesn’t take long to figure out that something’s wrong about the place though, with unwashed dishes in the kitchen and no sign of any parental supervision. Still this won’t stop you from doing your duty as a weird little homunculus, so it’s off to work you go.
Playing Clem generally involves walking from room to room and looking for things to interact with, like cupboards full of useful items or tools hanging on a wall. From there you’ll need to figure out what they could be used for, and by doing so you’ll be able to progress further. It’s classic adventure stuff, like using a key on a locked draw or combining a glass ball and a slingshot to shoot something, and it’s pretty darn satisfying.
Sometimes you’ll need to solve more specific puzzles though, usually relating to the magic spells that have been cast all over the home. To obtain a hidden item you might have to arrange wine bottles in a specific order on a wine rack, or change the time on a clock based on symbols that need a whole lot of deciphering. Some of these puzzles are truly genius, with one in particular making me grin from ear to ear and proclaim my genius when I solved it.
More places become accessible as you receive new powers too, like a magical lens that allows you to see hidden messages or a runic key that can open any lock. The developers describe the game as the first ever Puzzlevania game, and while I think that might be a bit of a stretch I can’t deny that the backtracking to find new items can be pretty satisfying.
Not all the powers you gain access to lead to particularly fun gameplay though, with one late game power especially forcing you to go through some seriously slow moving mazes that never seem to end. The magical powers all shake up the gameplay a little in their own way, but they weren’t all welcomed by me with open arms.
Perhaps the biggest complaint I have with Clem though is just that it’s a little too slow moving, especially for a game that takes well under three hours to complete. The movement of your character (even when changed to top speed in the options menu) is just too darn slow, particularly when you can’t figure out what to do and end up wandering into every single room of the house to find something new to interact with. It’s not enough to spoil the experience, but I certainly felt I could’ve shaved off twenty duller minutes of the game just by being able to get around quicker.
Clem has plenty of charm to make up for the slight pacing issues though. The little girl who you’re tasked with collecting bugs for has clearly been tormenting her parents with her magical powers, and finding notes from them that flesh out their family relationship are often rather funny and occasionally even tug on the heart strings. The story of the game isn’t ever shoved in your face, but has a fair few twists and turns that it manages to rather impressively tell through discoveries you make while you explore.
Clem is a charming and compelling adventure game that’ll delight those who are pining for the good old days of the genre. Most of the puzzles it contains are masterfully designed, and the story it tells as you explore was unexpectedly engaging. It might be a little slow moving for some, but if you’re able to get past that this magical adventure will surely put a spell on you.
A charming little adventure game
Contains some truly genius puzzles
Backtracking with new powers can be a lot of fun
Movement is just too slow
Not all of the powers you get are fun to use
Backtracking isn't always fun