Something that is sorely lacking in the video game industry is comedy. No, not the occasional pun here and there or the goofy recurring character, but a primary focus on comedy as a selling point. The world of entertainment has taken note of the rise in popularity with self-aware or meta humor, and have incorporated it accordingly in small pockets in every visual medium. Sometimes, products arise where comedy isn’t just abiding by trends—rather, they incorporate comedy because they love comedy. Clam Man is the latest piece to wash up onshore.
If one is familiar with Telltale’s Sam & Max series, they will no doubt find refuge with Clam Man. The point-and-click adventure focusing on dialogue and satirical writing is almost like an homage to the now-defunct company’s past work. Constantly impeding on its own charisma, the indisputable charm of Clam Man is that it is undeniably lacking in any of it. An ordinary clam man in an ordinary underwater town—the primary conflict is that he loses his job. Absolutely riveting. Where this leads is what gives the story every opportunity to crack a joke, parody a thing, or do whatever it needs to to make a funny.
Clam Man is available on Steam for your regional pricing.
I’ve already said it, but I’ll say it again. Clam Man is fired from his job. This already bad situation gets worse when his rent quintuples the next morning. Hobos talking about omniscient ducks on the streets, vendors trying to sell sandbags at every corner, and deranged former co-workers are only a fraction of what Clam Man will face in the following few days. It’s your job to wade him through it all. You are the player, after all.
Gameplay is an important part of a game’s success, but here, the story is what will ultimately decide the fate of the game’s worth. Clam Man is an ultra-satirical, pun-happy game that takes the ordinary and makes it absurd. I mean, you have a clam man named Clam Man. That’s weird. That’s totally weird. You don’t have any lobster men named Lobster Man. Again, those who made Sam & Max their go-to treat for witty dialogue will likely enjoy this game. Clam Man is something of a similar treat, except it’s fish flavored.
Those unkind to this manner of satirical overload will find little reason to tour the town. You know people who have really strict taste with food and all that? Clam Man is like a sushi buffet—nothing but sushi. Don’t even expect anything else. It’s kind of the same deal here, except the sushi is punny writing. Generally straightforward and dry, too. Kind of like sushi. (Disclaimer: I have never tried sushi.) This one-track perspective gives very little room to try and persuade a general populace that it’s worth the few-hour playthrough, even once. Should it have something else going for it—perhaps multi-faceted game mechanics—this could be overlooked. But it doesn’t, so it isn’t.
Personally, I quite like satirical writing. I can name a bunch of things that I pleasantly enjoy that were basically nothing but satire. It’s kind of a shame that no one takes satire seriously, because it used to be the only thing that mattered. Back in ye olden times or something—go ask a literary nerd. It’s another thing, though, to make me laugh. I laugh at almost nothing, which is a shame because I enjoy laughing. Clam Man made an attempt, which is what I will say about its effectiveness at comedy. Not until the very end, which accumulated into an incredibly anticlimactic moment, did I stifle a chuckle. For the most part, I find the attempts at comedy entertaining and amusing, but rarely funny. Whether that detracts from its quality is dependent on the person (it does for me—sorry, developers, I know you worked hard and I appreciate you).
How to play Clam Man in two easy steps. Step one: point. Step two: click.
A large majority of one’s time with the game will involve hearing the incessant clicking of the mouse (or touchpad, in my case). What matters here is dialogue, and it takes priority over everything else. Whatever gameplay mechanic presents itself is due specifically to the story. Generally, though, you click a lot to continue conversation and move Clam Man around like a puppet. The good news is that you can control the amount of dialogue you want Clam Man to say. Want to get on with the story? Just click the last option for any dialogue tree. Want to chat for hours like your mother does whenever she sees a peer at a grocery store? Do so. The power is yours to choose from.
On top of a lot of words, Clam Man also has its fair share of puzzles to do! Well, I say fair share, but it’s more like an unfair share where they all exist near the end of the game. Puzzles include, but are not limited to, cracking a three-digit number code to open a safe, figuring out how to untie a specific knot, and combining items together to compel a gang of gangsters to leave a room. Most of these puzzles are provided near the latter portion of the game, which feels a little too abrupt to have one acclimate to naturally. It isn’t like Tales of the Neon Sea or The Spiral Scouts, where puzzles are practically at every turn sans cutscenes and dialogue. It’s more like they jump you in an alley when you least expect it. The opposite; yeah, it’s basically the opposite of those games whose reviews I linked intentionally for you to read.
With the relative lack of anything other than dialogue and some endgame puzzles, there’s not much to get acquainted with here. To repeat the obvious, story and characters are what’s important, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing there were a little more. Certain characters don’t even show up more than once, which is a shame. While not quite barren in content, there’s not much memorability to Clam Man outside the dialogue, which could stunt replayability. One could play the “Short, but sweet” card, though I’d prefer the “Short, sweet, and replayable” card. You can’t purchase these cards anywhere, by the way. I made them up.
Graphics & Audio
Looking at Clam Man is kind of like looking at a children’s storybook. I don’t need to bring up the sushi buffet analogy again, but it’s kind of like that. There’s a really “cartoonish” look that reminds me of stories of old, with big bold lines and simplistic faces. It’s colored adequately, though not in an over-the-top fashion, which it certainly could have. Personally, though, I’m glad they didn’t, as I feel the subdued saturation fits more in line with ordinary feel they strive to parody. Clam Man looks like Dwight Schrute put a clam on his head and took off his jacket. That is a statement I will probably never say again, and it’s thanks to Clam Man that I finally could. Every location (there are many) has a vast array of detail to it that I can only assume came from love. If it came from hatred, I would suggest the artist find another job. Distinct and intentionally lacking in flamboyancy, Clam Man gains points for trying to not try harder.
A song plays in the game, with full lyrics and everything. I did not expect to get a song with full lyrics and everything while playing Clam Man. Kudos, writers. There is, however, only a single track from the game that I thoroughly enjoyed, which only plays twice throughout the entire game (of which I found). The rest of the soundtrack (or “OST” as the hip people call it) ranges from “fine” to “meh.” This could also play a part in the commitment to keep things neutral and ordinary, which would make sense as the soundtrack improves during over-the-top moments. For me, the best track was when everything came to a smooth, slow crawl. A groovy, almost cathartic track that erased the word “stress” from my brain. This one track, along with the song with full lyrics and everything, were the two highlights of an “OST” that did little overall to impress.