ClayFighter was something of a novelty back in the day. In the times when Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat had popularized the fighting game, ClayFighter was a parody of the genre. It has something of a nostalgic quality to those who experienced it back then, and while its clay-inspired aesthetics have made the game’s visuals not only stand-out, but hold up surprisingly well, much of the nostalgia that ClayFighter elicits is more than a little misplaced, as it is not a very good fighter.
The big appeals of ClayFighter were the visuals, which tried to emulate the look of clay animation, and its sense of humor. While I already mentioned that the unique visuals still stand out, the humor is a bit juvenile and charmless, and gets way too much priority over gameplay.
Players can select eight different characters: Bad Mr. Frosty is a snowman with an attitude, Bonker is a crazed clown, Helga is an opera singer, Tiny is a musclebound strongman, Ickybod Clay is a pumpkin-headed ghost, Blue Suede Goo is an overweight Elvis impersonator, Taffy is a living piece of taffy, and the self-explanatory Blob is a simple blob of clay.
The characters are all simple enough in designs, and work well with the clay-like visuals. They may not be a particularly memorable cast, but they are, at the very least, more inspired than the additional characters that would show up in the sequels.
The gameplay is the game’s great flaw, with the combat being little more than mindless button-mashing. There was clearly a heavier focus on trying to bring out comedy in the characters than there was on any deeper mechanics (Bonker throws pies! Blob morphs into a giant fist when he punches!). Not only is the comedy not that funny, but there are no detailed combos or strategies to speak of. You really do just hit some buttons to do basic attacks and try to avoid those of your opponent.
There is also a clear lack of balance within the characters. Blob is more or less the go-to character to play if you want to win, while the game gives little justification for selecting Tiny or Blue Suede Goo.
To make it all worse, the game’s AI when playing single player is just bad. You can quite literally win a match by spamming the same attack, either by vanquishing an AI who keeps running into said attack, or by your opponent doing nothing but blocking as you repeat the same move over and over again. I actually won a match by hitting my opponent twice, and then just standing in place and spammed a single attack, and the computer just blocked until the time ran out, allowing me to win by having just slightly more health.
ClayFighter’s gameplay simply feels unpolished, and despite the clever visual idea, the game has no creativity to speak of in other areas. Aside from the empty gameplay, many of the stages are just palette swaps of others, and the final boss of the single player mode has to be the worst in the genre’s history.
The un-cleverly named N. Boss basically epitomizes the game’s lack of caring. Not only does he not share the clay-like visual of the other characters, but his character design is simply a ring of white balls with two eyeballs on top. He only uses the projectile moves of other characters, and the announcer doesn’t even say his name. Has there even been such an obviously rushed-in-the-last-minute character in a game? There’s nothing to N. Boss, and he basically speaks for the whole game.
ClayFighter may have a soft spot for some gamers of the era, but it is a fighter best left to memory. The world of gaming didn’t suffer any great loss for not having the ClayFighter series continue very far.