Adventure Gamers Awards
Clam Man is a short but commendable debut effort from a three-person development team based in Finland. You can probably guess what sort of character stars in this point-and-click adventure and infer the correct vibe from that. This game is clearly designed as a vehicle for jokes, as not a moment goes by without some sort of dry, witty line. In fact, it’s so concerned with amusing you that it often foregoes puzzles in the meantime. If you recognise that going in, you’re far more likely to have a good time. Those wanting any sort of deep challenge should stay away, but if you’re up for a light and cheery comedic tale, you can’t go wrong with Clam Man.
We meet our not-yet-intrepid hero sitting in his office cubicle at Snacky Bay Prime Mayonnaise. With a large mollusc head and human body, Clam Man works in sales and is content with his stress-free life. He answers some calls – one customer wants to know if smearing mayonnaise all over their body will make them more aerodynamic – and admires his motivational poster, but it’s not long before he’s summoned to see Mr. Bosman (who is indeed the boss). The (literally) crabby leader resides in a plush office where, after spending several minutes making a ridiculous pie analogy, he abruptly fires Clam Man, effective immediately.
This is a surprising and even suspicious development. Clam Man only recently got promoted and there is no reason for his firing. After talking to one of his colleagues, he discovers that the company keeps sending out huge batches of promotional mayonnaise, much of which mysteriously goes missing. And so it’s time for action. Clam Man makes it his sole mission to discover what’s going on at Snacky Bay Prime Mayonnaise and find out the true reason for his dismissal. It’s a fun little quest that will see him mingling with shifty mobsters, wild conspiracists and sandbag sellers before all is said and done.
Though its primary purpose is to deliver laughs, Clam Man also succeeds in telling a decent enough story, one that is unafraid of leaning into the absurd, like convincing a talking security camera to let you through or enlisting the help of a ninja duck in a fight. It’s very linear, though. You’re always contained to a couple of environments at any one time and it’s crystal clear what you need to do next. It’s so streamlined at times that it feels more like an interactive storybook than an actual game. There’s even a great fourth-wall-breaking scene where the developers acknowledge the fact themselves, though obviously that doesn’t make it any less true.
That said, there are some puzzles to solve along the way. You even have an inventory, but don’t be surprised if you forget it’s there most of the time because there’s only a couple of things you can actually carry. The objects you acquire lend themselves to more traditional adventure game challenges in which you use them on environmental hotspots. Again, though, this is just a matter of going through the motions since you won’t have any trouble figuring out the solutions. More interesting puzzles come later when you need to crack a safe and arrange sticky notes based upon logical statements. These are welcome additions that change the pace and get the brain whirring; it would have been great to see more of these introduced earlier.
The city of Snacky Bay is amusingly banal, which makes the bizarreness of the plot and its inhabitants even funnier. Despite being entirely populated by anthropomorphic marine life, the city setting closely resembles our own with graffiti-sprayed side streets, bustling clubs and rundown apartments. The comedy derives from the things people say, often at Clam Man's expense, as well as the silly situations that our down-on-his-luck protagonist finds himself in, like being pushed for suddenly-excessive rent payments in advance or having to listen to the life story of a sardine at a time-sensitive moment. As you enter conversations with others, you can select particular topics to talk about and get entertaining dialogue responses in return.
And there’s a lot to hear. Or read, to be exact, since there’s no voice acting beyond Peanuts-style synthesised murmuring. Conversations would have been nicely enhanced further with vocals, but the script alone makes it a joy chatting to the delightfully eclectic cast. There’s the landlord’s adorable turtle daughter who accidentally keeps insulting Clam Man, a mobster trio (featuring a starfish wearing an ill-fitting tracksuit) who manage to be threatening despite dancing whenever they leave a scene, and a cheery squid co-worker who explodes in extreme rage if you misname her collectible figurines.
At no point does this game take itself too seriously. There’s one occasion when Clam Man is in the shadows, watching the city, pontificating about the world, only to be interrupted by a creature that appears from the rubbish bin to comment on his monologuing. There are pop culture and gaming references, such as mimicking Telltale’s famous ‘so and so will remember that’ messages. Scenes are packed full of miscellaneous objects just begging to be clicked on for a clever comment, like ‘Jailbait: A Photographic Collection of Prison Food’ on Clam Man’s bookshelf. If you’re a fan of puns, sarcasm or just general silliness, you’ll be hard-pressed not to have a constant smile fixed on your face. Spend your time interacting with everything you can, even if it’s entirely unnecessary, because that’s where a lot of the entertainment value comes from.
Strangely, despite being fully point-and-click, I never got to grips with the unintuitive control scheme. You left-click to move Clam Man around individual environments, but right-click to exit the current scene. You also right-click to interact with hotspots, but left-click to progress dialogue. I always ended up forgetting which button I should press. It would have been much simpler to tie every action to a single click. It’s not that it’s particularly complicated, but my brain has been so wired by other games that I was constantly fumbling.
Visually, Clam Man is presented in hand-painted 2D and reminds me of a children’s book. I mean that in the best possible way, since it helps boost the jovial and charming atmosphere. It makes good use of a colourful palette and thick border outlines rather than fine detail. The backdrops even feel suitably moody when the sun goes down and the streetlamps turn on. The simply but comically designed character models are relatively static, but are distinct, varied and expressive nonetheless, particularly the protagonist himself. There’s something inherently funny about Clam Man’s big shell head and exasperated expression atop his basic beige office attire.
Most of the soundtrack is comprised of smooth jazzy tunes, like something out of a detective movie. With its groovy saxophones and drums, it’s the kind of music that is perfect to tap your foot or snap your fingers to. Occasionally it breaks away from the genre, usually for humorous effect, like in a rope and knot store that blasts heavy guitar music intercut with vocal shouts of “ropes!” and “knots!” There is also a great song that plays during an early cutscene, whose lyrics mock Clam Man for his long commute home by public transit even though he’s now unemployed. The biggest knock against the audio, other than the lack of full voice-overs, is that there could have been more environmental sound, since ambient effects are mostly absent.
I enjoyed Clam Man overall, though it is disappointingly short at only two hours long – and that includes interacting with literally everything. But perhaps any longer and it would have outstayed its welcome. It drew me in with its appealing cartoon graphics and immediately hooked me with its sense of humour, continually firing so many jokes that it’s hard not to get swept up in it. Of course, comedy is particularly subjective and the game's overwhelming emphasis on generating laughs may frustrate those looking for a deeper, better-rounded adventure experience. It certainly could have done with more puzzles, but at least those that are present work well. It’s over before you know it, but if you’re up for a breezy, bite-sized piece of fishy fun, you won’t regret a quick dive into Clam Man.