I’m no stranger to well… strange video games. Whether it’s the insane situations of the Yakuza series, picking my nose in WarioWare or copping a squat on the toilet to save my progress in No More Heroes, gaming has seen me do some rather odd and unexpected things. Enter Clustertruck, an almost Mirror’s Edge style platformer that sees you literally hopping between moving trucks as you’re placed into increasingly complex and silly situations.
Clustertruck’s hook is a simple one – ride and leap along the tops of a convoy of speeding trucks to a finish line without your feet ever touching the ground. It almost sounds like a game you might create as a young child. And while this may be a simple case of navigating a series of trucks down a fairly straightforward straight road, new obstacles soon start to dial up the difficulty. Whether that’s by throwing in swinging pendulums, giant spinning wheels or removing the road entirely, the game manages to consistently introduce a surprising amount of variety across its runtime.
Played entirely from a first-person viewpoint, the action is fast, it’s frantic and most importantly it’s good fun and a large part of this comes down to the game’s physics. Where Clustertruck might have easily been a platformer about memorising each stage’s patterns of its trucks’ driving lines instead opts to offer a far more unpredictable approach. While the stages route is a constant, the game’s physics-based focus results in no two runs ever being the same. While one method may be successful the first time around, on repeated playthroughs of the same stage you may not be so fortunate. Trucks you relied on before for a quick piggyback suddenly flipped in the air due to the physics not being on their side this time.
Clustertruck’s greatest selling point can also be its most frustrating though, the unpredictable nature of the trucks resulting in numerous deaths that feel unavoidable. While it’s fun and sometimes even laugh out loud funny to be surprised how trucks might interact with the environment and one another, it also means that sometimes you may get dealt a raw hand, especially on the latter more complex stages. As trying as it can be banging your head against a single stage though, the brevity of each one, not to mention the snappiness of restarting means frustrations never grow to hurt the game’s appeal. The fact of the matter is, if you were to remove the random aspect of Clustertruck then surely the charm goes with it too.
Every stage scores you based on how stylishly you made it to the finish line, a feature that is sadly made irrelevant due to online leaderboards being MIA – a strange decision especially when the PC version does include this. While we’re on the topic of missing features, it appears the in-game level editor also didn’t make the jump from PC – another disappointing absence. Your style points can be used to purchase new abilities that improve your manoeuvrability or offer a helpline. As your repertoire opens up you’ll eventually be able to perform some truly brilliant feats whether it’s through using your double jump and hook shot or by even summoning a truck at any point or freezing the entire convoy in place.
As you familiarise yourself with your new powers it’s here you start to really see the speed running potential in Clustertruck. Sure you could play a good chunk of stages safe and sit on a truck riding it to victory, but that isn’t brave or fun. By around the third world, it wasn’t enough to simply survive, I wanted to look cool doing it and try new things and Clustertruck’s abilities helped aid that.
Clustertruck might not be the most detailed game visually speaking, but its polygonal style and spectrum of pastel colours result in an effect that’s both clean and unique. The music too while nothing truly spectacular offers a strong, fast and frantic pace that lines up nicely with the action on screen. More importantly though, is the fact the game runs great whether playing in docked or handheld mode. As you might expect with a game based on precision platforming this is key and even with trucks crunching into one another or unpredictably flipping in the air, the framerate holds strong.
Clustertruck is a simple idea but a really entertaining one. What it lacks in depth or missing features, it makes up for in sheer laughter – every attempted run a mash-up of drunkenly driven trucks, unexpected situations and death-defying risks. Snappy, exciting and sometimes frustrating, Clustertruck is a welcome addition to the eShop library and has me eager to see what publisher TinyBuild has in store for Switch owners next.