A lot of my earlier days owning a 3DS was spent on its eShop channel, due to the plenty of impressive indie-titles that I discovered there and still hold dear to my heart. One evening browsing this marketplace, I came across a trailer for Gunman Clive that literary sold its product short. Promoting itself as just another run-and-gun game with nothing much to it and being created by someone behind unknown smartphone-titles, it was a surreal form of advertisement. Bertil Hörberg at Hörberg Productions is the man behind this project and what do you think you get for a game that costs under 2 euros? Honestly, more than I could have ever imagined, to the point that I now own five copies of it.
Quality over quantity
The story is basically you rescuing your loved one as one of the playable characters, so nothing more than what a traditional NES side-scroller offers. While there are multiple characters to choose from, the star of this platforming shooter is the cowboy Gunman Clive who can jump, duck, and shoot horizontally. Yes, that is literally it for his abilities and I love this simple setup in order to make him easy to get to grips with.
Unlike the original release for the 3DS though, Gunman Clive on the HD consoles lets you play as Ms. Johnson from the start and even as Chieftain Bob who first appeared in the sequel. Ms. Johnson cannot run and shoot at the same time like Clive, but can float, making her the easy mode in my eyes. Meanwhile, Chieftain Bob is quite different. He does not use a gun, meaning he cannot acquire power ups similar to Clive and Ms. Jonson. Instead, Bob wields a spear that can penetrate through walls, but has a short range and can only be used as a melee attack. It is definitely a strong weapon, but possibly the most challenging way to play this title.
Gunman Clive offers 20 stages to play through and every single one is fantastic due to how each takes advantage of our heroes’ lack of abilities by focusing on tight level design. Anti-gravity stages, platforms that move according to where you stand, and perfect enemy placement to make them fun obstacles, showcase the attention to details implemented in order to make every moment engaging through this game’s genre. No level became repetitious, with every new gimmick being introduced in a safe environment before throwing you into it with more difficult scenarios to take on. There are even minecart- and horizontal shooter sequences added in to mix up the playthrough, and both are exciting moments testing you in dodging obstacles and attacking with good accuracy.
This wonderful focus on making every stage engaging also goes for the creative enemy designs. All are made to be entertaining to take on, as none required more than three hits to be killed, usually only one. This helps give the game a good flow and they come in a high variety, such as the covering cowboys, dynamite throwing bandits, leaping pumas, disorientated ducks, and more. All have a clear characteristic to them each, making it easy to learn their setups while keeping you on your toes. The boss fights are just as well designed with tense patterns that requires quick reflexes to overcome. All are exhilarating encounters and different from one another, be it the robot that requires you to jump on his fists in order to attack it or the gunner with a grappling hook for an arm.
While Gunman Clive‘s attention lies on how to best create imaginative levels through the protagonists’ limitations, there are supportive items sprinkled around within the stages. All characters have a health bar each, which can be refilled by slices of or whole cakes left from defeated enemies. Those holding a firearm can also find strong power ups in the form of new guns that are lost after one hit. These range between the triple shot, slow homing bullets, exploding rockets, fiery bouncy balls, and laser that can pierce through objects. The last one is the only weapon you can have three bullets simultaneously of on the screen, while the rest is two. This makes for a great variety in weapons, and despite some being clearly better than others, any help is welcomed.
I love how Gunman Clive shows that you do not need unique ideas or expansive character moves in order to make a fantastic game. What you need is to make level- and enemy designs around a character’s abilities. This title does so by focusing on you using your few moves to the max, and lets your quick reactions and skills do the talking. Combine this with a smooth difficulty curve, this playthrough is outstanding from start to finish. Which sadly can take about 30 minutes at max to get through, with my latest taking around 15. However, I never felt unfulfilled thanks to how engaging every second was. It is confusing why there is a save feature included in this game, but when that is my biggest complaint, it should speak volume for how incredible this small package is.
Gameplay Score: 9/10
Brown, bright, and brimming with charm
Artistic directions is a hard subject to talk about, because of how easy it is to make it more about a personal taste than something to dissect analytically. That being said, I am personally happy with any style a product provides as long as it is made to be memorable and consistent. Gunman Clive succeeds at this, with its take on a brown colour scheme and harsh pencil lines creating a beautiful hand drawn art style. This style and minimal amount of colours also work as a way to represent the old black and white cowboy television series, with even the effects looking like film grain!
You will be taken to several different locations, such as on the top of mountains, within mines, through a forest, and much more, all feeling like great representations of the wild west. That is except for the last couple of stages that goes a bit over the top, but those are an interesting inclusion that makes sense when you consider what happened to the popularity of this setting in the 60s. There are even more colours being used to give these levels a more surreal look and all areas are connected through visual cues of your character travelling between them, which are nice touches of details.
As for the characters, all have a simple, yet appealing designs that make them easy to identify and admire from their hand drawn lines. Having the fiends also appear in specific colours, is a clever way to showcase their difficulty or type, such as the different bandits being in blue and animals being coloured in bright yellow, for example. This project is also lighthearted with creative enemies and takes itself silly enough to include dangerous ducks that bomb you and birthday cakes for refilling your health completely, making this adventure charming throughout.
I am severely impressed by how much the developer got crammed into this title despite its length, providing a lot of diversity to this short journey. As for the different versions, there is not much to say. The 3DS one has 3D going for it and it looks gorgeous with clear depth to fields and areas, but the HD ports offer clean presentation to make the artistic choice shine even brighter. There is something about admiring every drawn line, which makes me prefer the latter.
The music was composed by Arne Hörberg and he uses western instruments wonderfully, including guitars, flutes, and tribal drums, with occasional chip-tunes added in. This signifies the game’s clear cowboy style, but also that it is still a video game with inspirations from titles in the 80s like Mega Man. It is a beautiful soundtrack that consists of few, but varied tones that are easily memorable and never become old. Even the sound effects are magnificent, be it the cute shots of your weapons that sound like toy guns or the bit crushed explosions with echoes. It adds to make this spaghetti western a bit more cheesy, but in an enjoyable and unique kind of perfection.
Presentation Score: 10/10
Can you geese what is next?
While it is fun to replay this game through its sheer entertainment alone, there are some added extras to make revisits more interesting. Besides the multiple characters, the time trial and no death run add some nice setups for playing through this game differently. However, while you can also unlock one strange character, it is easy to play through this game with all four protagonists within about an hour or two. There is little else to speak of in terms of replay value, especially since the difficulty options only affect the amount of health you have. Thankfully, the short length and the multiple characters to play as, makes this an easy title to pick up and play whenever you need your western fix.
Extra Score: 7/10
There is nothing wrong with a game being short as long as the experience is a fulfilling one, and Gunman Clive shows why this ideology holds true. This is a fantastic journey that offers plenty of creative platforming and fiends to tackle, simple gameplay that tests your skills, beautiful presentation with plenty of admirable details, and multiple characters to try out. The minor flaws do not change what a wonderful time this little gem provides. This is kinda like enjoying a glass of whiskey: lovely atmospheric and packs a punch, even by how small of a drink it is.