Here’s the first of what is likely to be a long-running sporadic series of tributes to shitty games. In other words, when I can’t find something to complain about, I’ll toast some crappy titles that will likely induce vomiting in my readers. It’ll be similar in format to my “History Of” articles, but much shorter, and obviously focusing on horrible games rather than good ones. You know you love it…so read on!
Today, we’re going to examine an infamous series of fighting games from the 1990s. In the midst of the fighting game explosion, these games did not feature revenge-obsessed martial artists, 500-hit combos, or ridiculous amounts of blood and gore. Instead, the protagonists were sentient figurines made out of clay that looked like they stepped right out of a California Raisins video. Yes…I’m talking about Interplay’s ClayFighter series.
Bad Mister Frosty gets ready to throw down.
The first game in the series, aptly named ClayFighter, appeared on the SNES in 1993 (it was ported to the Genesis a year later). Obviously meant to be a humorous take on the fighting game genre as a whole, the fighters themselves were quite a motley crew: Bad Mister Frosty (he’s basically the Ryu of the series, as he appears in every game and he was the most popular), Blob, Blue Suede Goo, Bonker, Helga, Ickybod Clay, Taffy, and Tiny. Later on in the year, Interplay shoved out a slightly modified version of the game called ClayFighter Tournament Edition. This wasn’t too big of a shift from its predecessor; just a few speed and gameplay tweaks.
The game sold reasonably well, and we got a sequel – ClayFighter 2: Judgment Clay – in 1994. The title was an obvious ripoff of the hit film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, as was the boxart and even the intro sequence. The graphics and fighting engine were completely overhauled this time around, while the developers also saw fit to drop a lot more fighters into the ring. Frosty, Tiny, and Blob were the only returning characters, while everyone else was new. Joining the trio of veterans were Octohead, Hoppy, NanaMan, Googoo, and Kangoo. Like other fighting games of the day, you could also unlock the bosses as playable characters, and they included Thunder, Jack, Butch, Dr. Peelgood, Ice, Spike, Slyck, and Sarge. Of course, the bosses were merely “dark” versions of the existing characters. (If you want to know a bit more about the creation of the clay figures used in these games, take a look here; that’s the studio that constructed all of the clay figures for C2: JC.)
Moving forward to the next generation of gaming, Interplay unleashed ClayFighter 63 1/3 for the N64 in 1997. This game was originally planned for the M2, a game machine from Matsushita that never came to pass. ClayFighter Extreme for the PlayStation was similarly flushed, so C 63 1/3 was all that was left. The developers attempted to stuff even more clichés into this one, like combos, dual lifebars, and “Claytalities.” As far as fighters go, Frosty, Hoppy, and Blob return to the ring, while Bonker, Taffy, and Ickybod Clay have come back from the first game to join them. Other than that, we’ve got more new characters again, including some interesting cameos. Jumping into the fight were Houngan, Kung Pow, and Earthworm Jim (yep, the one you’re thinking of), plus unlockable characters like Dr. Kiln, Sumo Santa, and Boogerman (who also had his own game, back on the SNES and Genesis). Doesn’t seem like many, does it? Well, as it turns out, there were plans to have an extra five characters in the game: Lady Liberty, Lock Jaw, the Yow Yow Boys, High Five, and Hobocop. Why didn’t they show up? Nintendo put the kibosh on Hobocop…they simply didn’t want him in the game for some reason (likely a political correctness issue). The others were missing because the developers weren’t able to cram them onto the cartridge. As luck would have it, those four did appear in the rental-only ClayFighter: The Sculptor’s Cut, released in 1998. This game was a rehash of C 63 1/3, with some moves and other functions missing in order to accomodate the new characters. This was the last ClayFighter game made, and it’s highly unlikely we’ll ever see the franchise again.
Okay, so I’ve given you some details on the games themselves. The question is…what went wrong? Injecting humor into a fighting game doesn’t seem so bad, right? After all, sillier concepts have been used in other genres, and worked fine. So what exactly made ClayFighter so horrible?
It all boils down to gameplay. While the premise was something different, and the graphics in later ClayFighter games may have looked nice in publicity shots, the games simply didn’t play well at all. C2: JC was okay, but the others were quite lackluster. Paltry 16-bit systems weren’t exactly fantastic fighting engines to begin with, but a few decent games were released. ClayFighter wasn’t one of them. While C2: JC was passable, the games before and after were weak. C 63 1/3 in particular was one of the worst titles ever released for the Nintendo 64. The 3D backdrops were okay, and the fighters looked good…when they weren’t moving. In motion, the characters had very few frames of animation, which is unacceptable on a system as powerful as the N64. Even worse, the control was spotty, and sometimes, the slowdown would be so bad that your commands wouldn’t even take effect until a few seconds later! This was very noticable if you were in the midst of a multiple-hit combo. And those 3D environments? Sometimes, objects in the foreground would literally block your view of the fight!
It’s a shame, really. If C 63 1/3 had been given to developers who knew what they were doing, especially considering some of the other feats the N64 was capable of, the Clayfighter series may have had a longer lease on life. If things had been different, we could be beating the clay out of bad guys with a fully polygonal Bad Mister Frosty right now.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom and do my impression of a Play-Doh Fun Factory.