Sunday, August 22, 2021

Ayo the Clown (NSW, PC) Review

Two reviews in one night? Is SPC daffy? Well, I'd like to think of the site as more of a Bugs Bunny-type character, but that's irrelevant as we have a second review to share! This one is a 2.5D platformer that also released this month. It's Ayo the Clown.

There's no clowning around with this statement: This is one fun platformer.

Clowns--they're generally associated with childhood nightmares and other horrors, whether that be justified or not. However, indie developer Cloud M1 is looking to right the wrong of clowns past with an adorable game starring a cute, precocious clown named Ayo. Fittingly enough, this 2.5D platformer is called Ayo the Clown, and it just so happens to also be a relatively well done game that succeeds in being an enjoyable romp.

Ayo the Clown's journey begins when he wakes up during a thunderstorm to discover that his dog Bo has disappeared. Ayo rushes out from his home to go on an eight-world adventure in search of Bo, aka clown's best friend. The story is a simple one but has plenty of charm to it thanks to being told through lovingly narrated storybook-style cutscenes. 

Lovingly drawn and narrated, these storybook-style scenes are great inclusions to the game.

If I had to compare any style of platformer to Ayo the Clown, the most obvious pick would have to be the Yoshi series. Like Yoshi, Ayo has similar abilities, a simple enough difficulty that gets more challenging if you try to 100% each level (although Ayo's boss fights might make stretch that a bit--more on those later), and a cutesy, colorful, cartoon-y visual style and presentation. 

However, unlike Yoshi, starting off in Ayo the Clown, our hero forgot something in his rush to find his dog: He's totally lacking in abilities! Yes, in the beginning of the game Ayo can only move left and right; he can't even jump. Instead, in the first level of the game, he interacts with bounce pads that catapult the clown upwards in lieu of a jump. 

Thankfully, Ayo soon learns a jump ability the very next level, and then a lot of other moves quite consistently. He's able to blow up a balloon after each jump that gives him a little extra height and distance. He learns the ability to ground pound Yoshi-style. There are also a slide, a pushing ability, and even a wall jump that becomes unlocked through normal play. The latter, though, is a bit unwieldly to say the least. It requires the player to wait a second for Ayo to start sliding down the wall before they can initiate that signature move. On too many occasions I found myself doing it too early or too late, resulting in Ayo either falling back down or worse, falling to this doom in precarious situations where wall jumps need to be performed over pits.

Need some extra height and distance, Ayo? Then bring out that balloon of yours!

The platforming in Ayo the Clown feels adequate enough, though there were times where I felt I either died or took damage unfairly. First and foremost, the hitboxes of enemies in order to defeat them by jumping on their heads is way too strict. You either have to jump on them dead in the center or you'll find Ayo taking damage instead. This actually made the very first level of the game one of the most challenging for me for my entire play-through just because you have to take out enemies by jumping on them. Later levels lowered the need for this due to being able to jump manually, practice with knowing how strict the hitboxes were, and the ability to occasionally use clown-inspired weapons like a water balloon, a balloon sword, and a toy hammer. 

These weapons are power-ups in the same way that the Fire Flower is a power-up for Mario. One hit and the power-up--or in this case, weapon--is gone. Since some levels of the game require these weapons in order to access hidden areas containing collectables, it was important I hung on to the weapons as much as I could. Thankfully, there seemed to be plenty of power-ups placed throughout levels, so I was never in short supply. If I took damage, I knew I could either wait a little bit for the next power-up in the level or simply go back a short way to pick up a power-up I purposefully neglected to nab in case I did take damage.

(To the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm) Ayo the Clown had a dog: L-O-S-T, LOST!

Like any platformer worth its weight, Ayo the Clown features collectables to grab in each level to add some longevity to the game. There are six to collect in each level: three teddy bears and three lollipops. Some are hidden more cleverly than others, and the ones that are hidden well will require intrepid exploring to discover. There are also gems to grab, which serve as the in-game currency of Ayo the Clown, though these simply allow you to purchase one of three items as the game progresses: an upgraded balloon, an extra heart, and a key to an extra world in the game, featuring two truly tricky levels.

There are also ten toys to collect, which don't really serve a purpose other than being for completionists. That said, these are acquired by completing little side quests in levels that are offered by characters within the game's town. 

The levels themselves in Ayo the Clown run the gamut of easy and breezy to rough and tough. They all can be rather lengthy affairs if you plan to 100% a given level. It was common for some levels to last upwards of 15-20 minutes, though these were the ones that featured bosses. Levels feature abundant gimmicks and obstacles, such as conveyor belts, rotating circular platforms, vines to climb, pinball tables, and even altered gravity that puts Ayo on the ceiling.

Jaws, this shark ain't, but it'll still put a pretty painful bite into Ayo!

Additionally, there are many segments in the game's levels where Ayo briefly takes charge of a vehicle, whether that be a tank or helicopter. These sections break up the platforming well, and are a nice change of pace from jumping and clowning around through typical sections of levels.

I mentioned bosses earlier, and in a strange design decision, the developer decided to not make bosses their own stages. Instead, they come at the tail end of traditional platforming levels. Seeing as, again, levels are lengthy enough, the addition of bosses at the end of some of them makes already long levels even longer experiences. If you were to fail a boss and lose all of your lives, that means you have to begin at the level from the very beginning. That's 15 minutes or more wasted--easily. 

Bosses are the final challenge of each world's already lengthy last levels.
It's quite an endurance run, for sure!

The bosses of Ayo the Clown are the most challenging aspect within the game. All bosses have multiple phases, meaning new attacks to learn and avoid, or worse yet, meaning new attacks to learn and get hit by. The latter is more common due to many of the attacks not being telegraphed well ahead of time. Battles can feel cheap by feeling like they're trial and error, and many times your feeling would be correct. Still, the bosses are enjoyable, and you get a real sense of accomplishment for defeating them.

If I had to call the graphics of Ayo the Clown anything, it would be something between colorful and sterile. The 3D models don't really have too much going for them, but the environments are cheery and lively enough. Simple things like the way checkpoints will slam a pie into poor Ayo's face upon passing them didn't go unnoticed by yours truly. However, where Ayo the Clown truly impresses is with the aforementioned storybook cutscenes as well as the soundtrack, delivering several bops that I couldn't help humming along to as I played. Overall, the presentation is pretty nice and appealing.

There's plenty to look at in both the background and foreground in many of Ayo the Clown's levels.
Sometimes hazards will pop in to and from either!

Ayo the Clown won't take veterans of the platforming genre too terribly long. Maybe 5-7 hours to 100%. However, at the same time, the cutesy charm and clown hero might not appeal to many older players. That leaves kids, which Ayo the Clown might be too difficult for due to those dastardly bosses stuck at the end of already lengthy levels. 

Still, Ayo the Clown has clever level design, creative ideas permeating throughout the adventure, and some well-conceived (but not always well-executed) ideas. If you are a platforming fan looking for an adorable and delightful new run and jump for your Nintendo Switch or PC, have an open mind, and want a game that can be as challenging as it is cute, then get ready to clown around with Ayo--Ayo the Clown, that is! 

[SPC Says: B-]

A code was received by SPC from the publisher for the purpose of writing this review.

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