Welcome to this Halloween special review of Clock Tower. Helped in part by the use of a translated reproduction cartridge.
Ok, let's Begin!
Clock Tower was devised by the dark minds of Human Entertainment, and released on to the poor unsuspecting public in 1995 for the dreaded time stealer that was the Super Famicom. It's Director Hifumi Kono was enraptured by the diabolic works of Dario Argento so much so that the protagonist is based on the character Jennifer Corvino in Phenomena, even down to a shared first name. Supposedly Hifumi Kono's vision was to put the player inside a horror movie thus much of the development was based on getting the atmosphere just right. Hifumi Kono and his disciples clearly crafted a masterful piece of horror as the game was very popular in Japan sparking a series of Clock Tower games. Truly a terribly good legacy.
Jennifer Simpson with fellow orphans Laura, Lotte and Anne, are adopted by the rich recluse Simon Barrows, who lives in the Manor known as the Clock Tower due to its prominent feature. A woman called Mary takes the orphans from Granite Orphanage over to the Manor. Upon arriving at the Manor Ms Mary will ask you to wait while she goes to get Mr Barrows. After talking with your fellow orphans it becomes apparent that Ms Mary is taking an awfully long time. As Jennifer you desire to go look for her after entering a dark corridor and taking a few steps your hear a scream! You return to the others only to find that they've all gone and the lights are out. After searching Jennifer will come across the body of either Laura or Anne. That's when he appears, usually, either leaping out of water or crashing through an expensive looking sky light. It's Scissor-man. A grey and disfigured child wielding a set of large sharpened secateurs. He's unstoppable and he's hunting you down. Jennifer's only option is to run for her life as Scissor-man can seemingly portal around the mansion at will. After managing to hide from him Jennifer will begin to discover the darker secrets of the Manor. It's dilapidated state, the links to some occult demon idol, where and if Simon Barrows exists and what Ms Mary has to do with the Clock Tower. Which all culminates in the final act. I would say more but it would kind of spoil the point of the game as each experience of the game can be quite different depending upon your actions within it.
Clock Tower has an incredibly good horror vibe with excellent sound and music scores to make you feel on edge and uneasy. These sound cues are one thing but combine it with the subtle background details like white eyes glimpsing in from darkened windows or the dripping of taps and the creepy factor becomes quite palpable. Then there's the less subtle bits of paranormal animation like a window blowing open then shutting again even though you've passed this corridor ten times before or the paintings crying blood. These combined moments really get your heart jumping and in fairness it may need it after some slower parts.
The Animation for Jennifer is disturbingly real for an SNES game and really makes you feel terrifyingly more linked as a player. This was apparently done by using an actual woman to act out the moves that Jennifer performs and digitally rendering them. I suspect in the form of some type of rotoscoping though done to a much higher standard. As a lot of rotoscoping I've seen tends to use bold solid colours rather than full pixel rendering. The effect is superb though, providing some very fluid animations for your protagonists sprite. Not to mention it makes Scissor-man more other-worldly and abnormal in comparison as he is done with a more traditional sprite animation.
Clock Tower has multiple pathways in order to get to the end of the game. Even having alternative events that can occur depending on what you come across in the game. As well as alternative endings. I for one have researched two play-throughs and so far they have both not played out the way I played the game. That isn't to say that some sections don't interconnect along the way, but it is odd to have other players find items in different locations within the manor. Which is quite unique in a point and click game as usually they work off the idea of only one solution is the correct solution.
Clock Tower has a terrifying and iconic antagonist in the form of the demonic child of Scissor-man. During the game this creature will stalk you through the mansion brandishing his colossal secateurs ready to cut you down in true slasher villain style. Scissor-man also has another wonderful power of a slasher villain. His teleportation powers allowing him to seemingly appear from behind curtains, in pools of water or indeed the other end of corridors. There's no doubt about it that Scissor-man's presence provides the game with much of it's enjoyably tense moments and is bound to leave an impression on you once you experience him.
Righty'O here is probably one of the greatest problems with Clock Tower and it comes down to its main game function so it's a bit of a doozy, but not unexpected. Clock Tower is a point and click game. Now this actually makes a lot sense the games about an orphan child in a survival horror situation there unlikely to be able to shoot a gun or batter foes across the face with melee weapons with confidence like the characters in Resident Evil. However point and click games all come down to working out a pattern of logic. Ultimately it comes down to item collection and how to use these items to complete the puzzle. The problem that can occur here is you can have frustrating long moments where your wondering around the mansion in what seems to be apparently permanent safety. Which can result in a dramatic drop in tension which is fine, for a little while, but when you've spent 45 minutes trying to find an item or object to interact with it can take you a bit out of the game's horror element.
Ok from a major one to a minor. This games pause function doesn't stop your game's music. Which I know isn't much but it is kind of odd that upon pausing the game during a creepy moment that the music keeps running. I usually associated this kind of issue with lazy put together games that haven't been programmed properly to halt the game music upon pausing. Though I like the thought that maybe one of the game's designers might of thought this would freak out the player by leaving it to play. That said though I have no evidence that this was intended so must conclude that it's just something that was overlooked.
Nerdy C's Fright O Meter Rating
A Devilish Ingenious 4 out of 5
Well what can you say about Clock Tower. As a point and click game it's kind of short but at the same time it's more varied and innovative then other point and click games at the time. Clock Tower allows you to play the game and figure out whats going on within the manor in a more organic way relying a little less on the pure designer's logic of the Broken Sword or Monkey Island puzzles. It can be genuinely frightening at times and shocking for an SNES game and that's an important factor here. The fact that a 2D survival horror point and click game is getting under my skin is rather invigorating and shows that even the old pixels of the 90's can still provide a fright. I recommend it highly for a nostalgic Halloween evening, preferably with dim lighting and the volume cranked a little louder up then you'd usually have it, to get those sound effects really working on your nerves. So I wish you a most feindshley good night out there.
Whatever you are?