CD ROM: The Neverhood

The Neverhood
Dreamworks Interactive

A s the first offering from the software offshoot of Steven Spielberg and Jeffery Katzenberg's new company, this odd little disk suggests there's some weirdness in those billionaires yet. Like a hybrid of Gumby, Tim Burton, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the game presents us with a world made of clay, inhabited by creatures made of the same. In fact, the main character and the species he comes from are both called Klaymen. No singular, no plural; the whole environment is brightly colored clay. The game starts when the player clicks Klaymen awake--like a golem, almost--and maneuvers him out of his room. Next Klaymen confronts his first puzzle: a Venus Flytrap with a seemingly locked door on the other side. There are few of the usual interface gimmicks that typically guide puzzle/quest games here, although the manner in which Klaymen keeps "inventory"--he opens his chest to store found items--is fairly cool.

Yet The Neverhood is really more story than game. In an attached "Making of" file, one of the Neverhood's creators says--with a straight face--that the narrative is inspired by the Bible and its creation myth. Somewhat like Adam, the player has to figure out the point of being in this land in the first place. And something like a god, the player also gets to dabble in morality, myth, history, and the like; the quest leads as much inward as "further."

The game is a little like Myst, though funkier-looking; there's an apocalyptic past, and dark forces allied against the silent hero. On the other hand, unlike Myst, it's also pretty silly. I haven't made any impressive progress yet but it's a lot more fun getting stumped in this mystery than it is with any other digital toy.

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