When Gunman Clive was announced for the 3DS eShop, some smartphone gamers may have had their heads turned; one of the few complaints of the original release was controlling the gun-slinging hero with a virtual joystick and buttons. Here was an indie-game with a smart visual style and loving references to some of the classic platforming tropes, and it was now arriving on a dedicated gaming system. That potential is fulfilled, we're pleased to say, with the simple additions of buttons and stereoscopic 3D enhancing the experience.
The most striking thing about Gunman Clive, initially, is the audio and visual presentation. The visuals utilise a clever paper effect, with the background having a grubby, aged look that deceives your eyes into thinking your screen needs a good clean. It's an interesting approach, and even caused our eyes to tingle for a few minutes as they adjusted, but after that initial period the depth on offer was a pleasure to see. Animations are smooth and supported by a fluid framerate, while catchy music and retro pew-pew noises for your gun are likely to draw a smile. With just two names listed in the credits, it's a testament to talent and a solid concept overcoming the odds.
As an action platformer this title perhaps draws inspiration from revered series such as Mega Man and Super Mario Bros., though the conventions are so common that swinging and moveable platforms aren't exclusive to those franchises. What starts in early stages as a fairly standard but well-crafted platformer diversifies in unexpected ways, with shifts in enemy types and platforming requirements that are a delight to tackle. We're not going to reveal too much, as the surprises are well-paced and a treat to work through, but the 20 stages on offer provide plenty of variety in the experience. When you throw in a few different gun power-ups as well, there's a limited but satisfying set of skills and challenges to put you to the test.
There are three save profiles on offer, and for those sick of the stereotype of the heroic man rescuing the damsel in distress, you can play as either Clive or Ms. Johnson; the lady can rescue the gent in distress if you so please. They play slightly differently, with Clive being a little quicker but Ms. Johnson having the ability to float and slow a jump's descent, so both have strengths worth trying out. There's an unlockable character that's worth discovering for its own quirks, too, while three difficulty levels merely change the amount of health available, with Hard being reserved for particularly skilful gamers.
The controls are tight, the levels are well structured and the variations in challenges — including boss fights — are fantastic. The only downside is that the stages are also very short — typically one or two minutes each — and we'd beaten the game in normal difficulty in around 40 minutes. This can be countered by the fact that there are multiple characters and difficulties to play through, and it's enough fun that you may revisit it just for the sake of having a good time. Its budget price-point also helps, but when something is this short and sweet we can't help but wish there was more.
Gunman Clive offers terrific run and gun action at a steady tempo, with distinctive and gorgeous audio and visual presentation. It borrows memorable elements from classic franchises, but has its own physics and mechanics to go with its unique sense of style. With such a small development team — of two — it's remarkably polished and comes at a budget price, and our only complaint is that it's over all too soon. Such is the enjoyment on offer, however, we suspect a number of gamers will happily replay the short stages over and over, and we expect Mega Man-style perfect runs to become a YouTube fixture in the future.