It’s an embarrassing fact that I used to like Clay Fighter’s 64-bit entries. A lot, actually. I used to see the series as almost the peak of humour; my generation’s Monty Python.
I’m not embarrassed because it’s a bad game. I mean, it’s not great, but I love lots of games that are not great. Need I remind you of my soft spot for the Army Men series?
No, I’m embarrassed because Clay Fighter 63 1/3 and, by extension, Clay Fighter Sculptor’s Cut is an abomination. I can hardly bring myself to play them anymore, but somehow I enjoyed it when I was 10. So to illustrate this, let’s take a look at the holy grail of the N64 library: Clay Fighter: Sculptor’s Cut.
I’M A HUMAN BEING (I THINK IS WHAT HE SAYS)
I came into owning Clay Fighter: Sculptor’s Cut through my aforementioned embarrassing childhood passion for the series. Blockbuster Video happened to be liquidating some of their old games and my mother was gracious enough to buy me the game. The importance of this is that the game was a Blockbuster rental exclusive, I’m not even sure if they were supposed to sell it, but regardless, it came into my possession and has appreciated in value ever since.
If you’re new to the series, Clay Fighter is a parody of more popular 1v1 fighting games like Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, and, more prominently this time around, Killer Instinct. The clutch is that everything is presented in the style of claymation. The characters are actually created through stop motion using clay figures. It works pretty well, actually, and, to be fair to the game, is a pretty striking art style.
I’M BAD, I’M COOL, I’M NOBODY’S FOOL
I’m not terribly skilled in fighting games. I’m not a person who can tell you about frames or hitboxes or, hell, even string a combo together. I know my Street Fighter from my Samurai Shodown, however, I just can’t speak for what tier of quality a fighting game operates at.
Even with that in mind, I can tell you that Clay Fighter: Sculptor’s Cut isn’t a very good fighting game. It’s clunky, it’s overly simplistic, and its animation is garbage. I know I just finished praising the art style, but it doesn’t look that great in motion.
The N64 was a powerful console at the time, but it had issues with space restrictions on its cartridges and RAM. I bring this up because that’s probably the reason why Sculptor’s Cut moves and sounds so terrible. Maybe I’m being too generous.
Regardless, the shortage of animation frames makes the game feel incredibly chunky and makes the moves your opponents are trying to throw your way difficult to predict. You’re more likely to figure out what’s about to come your way because the characters never shut up about the move they’re about to attack with. They tend to announce things with repeated, low-quality sound clips that are often difficult to discern.
“Buzz-Saw” “Time to Kiln(?)” “Jack Rabbit, Jack Rabbit, LEAPOFLAPPERTY!”
THE CRANE, THE COBRA, THE MONKEY!
Which brings me neatly to the worst part of the whole game: the humour. This is the kind of game where a dog walks on screen, farts, sniffs it, then say it “smells like a clean win.” That’s not a joke, I mean, it’s supposed to be, but I’m not making it up. This is something that happens in the game.
It’s juvenile at the best of times, which is probably why I thought it was so hilarious back when I was 10. At the worst of times, it’s straight racist. Look, I’m not the best person to talk about racism being a white, small-town girl, but I know it when I see it.
There are no fewer than three racial stereotypes available to pick from in Sculptor’s Cut: The Zappa Yow Yow Boyz, cannibalistic pygmies, Houngan, a voodoo witchdoctor, and Kung Pow, a fabulously offensive Chinese chef.
The characters are made of clay and can be literally anything imaginable, but we went with racist caricatures.
This may have flown back in the ’90s, but it comes across as offensive now. The funny thing about this is that there was supposed to be another character, Hobo Cop. He was going to be a drunken, homeless vigilante, but Nintendo stepped in and said that was going too far. So the derelict police officer was too much, but the buck-toothed chef who fights using moves named after Americanized Chinese dishes was fine? Okay.
LET’S GET READY TO CRUMBLE
So, it’s bad, but it can’t be all bad, right? Okay, so Sculptor’s Cut does a few things well.
First, it includes Earthworm Jim as a playable character. Well, okay, you have to unlock him with a code in the Sculptor’s Cut version, but he’s there alongside Boogerman. As a fan, he’s generally my go-to character. It may not be much, but it’s nice to see Interplay tie in some of their other characters.
There’s also one feature the game has that fascinates me. If you hit a character in a certain way in a certain position on the field, you’ll knock them into another arena. I believe Mortal Kombat 3 had a similar mechanic, but here, the stages all branch off in multiple directions to the point where I’d almost swear that you can travel between any stage in the game by way of careful punches. It’s pretty rad.
The voice cast is also pretty tight. Featuring Jim Cummings, Rob Paulsen, and Dan Castellaneta, it’s quite a bunch. I mean, the lines they endlessly repeat are still pretty annoying and the sound quality is complete crap, but at least it’s a prolific bunch.
I also enjoyed the theme song, which suffers from the same sound compression issues, but is still pretty catchy. Actually, if you just played the title sequence, Clay Fighter would be an alright experience.
FOR HERE, OR TO GO?
You may be wondering what the whole Sculptor’s Cut nomenclature is all about? Well, when Clay Fighter 63 1/3 was released, it had a lot of cut content and wasn’t all that well received. So the Sculptor’s Cut was released as a Blockbuster exclusive update that added some of the cut characters and polished out some of the gameplay.
I actually owned Sculptor’s Cut long before I picked up 63 1/3 and I think purchasing that was when I realized my mistake. The N64 Clay Fighter games just aren’t very good. Actually, they’re worse than that, they’re annoying. They’re like a 12-year old that speaks only in South Park references.
It’s a sad revelation that such a cherished game from my childhood is so bad, especially when I kind of like the original Clay Fighter. Don’t get me wrong, there are worse fighting games out there. Heck, I can name worse fighters on the N64. But none meld incompetent gameplay and offensive humour quite as capably as Clay Fighter: Sculptor’s Cut.
This review was conducted on a Nintendo 64 using a cartridge copy of the game. It was paid for by the author’s mom, but not nearly at current market value. Yeesh.