We always look forward to checking out the latest indie games. Without the constraints of a publisher or the expectations of mainstream gamers, the potential for innovation is greatly increased, and there’s always the chance you’ll strike a real gem. Christchurch based developer Stickmen Studios has never been afraid of thinking outside the (X)box, and their latest title is no exception. Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time is a humorous, genre-crossing foray into the perils of time travel.
The game’s protagonist is Doc Clock, a kooky inventor of questionable talent, whose adventure begins when his ‘ultimate toasted sandwich maker’ invention predictably goes awry, turning his pet cat into a pot plant/feline hybrid. An entrepreneurial person would immediately recognise the potential; plants require less input and generate less output than felines… it’s a sure-fire winner. Instead of cashing in on the accident, Doc Clock invents a time machine, intending to travel back in time and prevent it from happening. True to form, the new invention also malfunctions and disintegrates, after flinging him far into the future; a bleak place, devoid of humans but filled with junk, hazards and homicidal robots. To put things to rights, Doc must find and reassemble his time machine, relying on your wits and reflexes to succeed.
Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time is probably best described as a puzzle adventure, with platform elements. You must guide Doc safely through each of the game’s levels and environments, using items collected along the way to build makeshift ramps, bridges, vehicles and other useful constructs. Occasional hints are provided, but usually you must rely on your own creativity and cognitive skills to bypass the numerous obstacles. Controlling the game requires both hands on deck, with input from both keyboard and mouse. This is not too complicated; commands are kept to a minimum and the keys are laid out logically. We did experience uncooperative/sluggish controls on a couple of occasions; a minor issue but worth mentioning. You will need split second timing to survive some of the trickier bits, and you can expect to fail many, many times. This was without a doubt the most frustrating element of the game for us, but somehow we felt compelled to come back and give it ‘just one more shot’. Persistence is the key here, and the satisfaction of finally succeeding is well worth the elevated blood pressure.
Thankfully, the game features a nifty Time Slider gadget, a sanity saver which enables you to rewind to a point prior to bombing out, and try again… and again, until you get it right. Even when you do succeed, it can be fun experimenting with the Time Slider to nip back and try something different – or to check whether there’s anything you may have missed. Objects sometimes become jammed or irretrievable, and the Time Slider is useful in these situations, too.
The game allows some freedom to manipulate collected objects and to build contraptions. Slap some wheels on a bathtub and you have a basic vehicle; add a motor, prop and umbrella and you have propulsion plus a means of surviving lethal falls. The position of each object can affect its performance and balance, so you’ll have to give careful consideration to placement and purpose... or find out the hard way that the propeller should have been attached on the other side of your cobbled together flying machine. Physics must also be taken into account. For example, ice is a low friction surface and therefore slippery, and the gradient of hills will affect your momentum. Obstacles can be simple or fiendish: from basic climbs, drops and levers to a deadly series of spike-lined pits and revolving platforms. You can also travel off the beaten path to pick up bonus items… if you can figure out how to reach them.
Items are stored in Doc Clock’s utility storage device, named SACK – a talking backpack with a handy mechanical arm and a caustic wit. SACK provides much of the game’s quirky humour by dishing out insults, to which Doc seems remarkably oblivious. The team at Stickmen Studios clearly had fun coming up with the snappy dialogue and one-liners. If the game's title wasn’t enough of a clue, humour is abundant elsewhere too: how about a sect of box-worshipping robots and their Temple of This Way Up? Or an achievement for executing a stomach churning 540º flip in a vehicle?
Graphics are unashamedly cartoonish, with prolific use of bold colours, solid fill and black outlines, plus some basic shading thrown in for good measure. This might sound a bit primitive, but the overall effect is eye catching and contributes to the game’s charm. The landscape is dotted with childlike animal sketches (in crayon), stylized road signs and somewhat disturbing monuments to cute, fluffy animals. Music and sound effects are incidental and light on substance… like the froth on your cappuccino. Having said that, Stickmen Studios has done rather well, considering it lacks the budget of mainstream developers.
Doc Clock: The Toasted Sandwich of Time should provide a good 6-7 hours of play, depending on how often you use the Time Slider, and is available as a download for around $13.00. Casual gamers: if you’re looking for something a little different - with bags of character, that will challenge your wits and reflexes (and test your patience!), then this is well worth a look-see.