Back in 1997, Claw from Monolith Productions (Blood, F.E.A.R., Shadow of Mordor) was something of a rarity; a PC exclusive platformer. And a good one at that. This tough-as-nails 2D side scroller proved that home computers could play host to such a game without playing second fiddle to the genre's prolific nature on consoles.
Being released only a few short months after Blood, Monolith's debut game, Claw has since become a sought after rarity in its own right, at least in its original form. The big-box release had few copies made with most discs being bundled with other software or hardware later down the line. This includes a DVD version - one of the first games to come on the format - complete with higher quality cutscenes. Unfortunately, those video files cannot be run without the disc present so they're not included here.
Jolly Roger flags are checkpoints, while arrows aid you in where to go (left)
Collect the map piece to end the level (right)
It's a shame as these cinematics are pretty decent. The opening scene even runs almost 7 minutes, complete with a naval battle stint in a Spanish prison. Our hero is the Pirate Captain Nathanial J. Claw, a feline swashbuckler imprisoned by the Cocker-Spaniards. In many ways, the story and setting take great influence from the works of Dumas - The Count of Monte Cristo in particular. During his time in prison, Captain Claw has found a treasure map left by the cell's previous inhabitant which points to the mystical Amulet of Nine Lives. He then takes advantage of an over-zealous guard dog and makes his escape. And thus our adventure begins.
Level one takes place in the prison's dungeon. Inspired by the real-life Chateaux d'If featured in Monte Cristo, La Roca (translation; The Rock) eases the player into the intricacies of the game without being an entire cakewalk. In fact, that's my major criticism. It is almost unforgiving in its difficulty. The large, sprawling levels which can branch wildly on your way to the end are filled with devious traps, tough enemies and instadeath aplenty to overcome. I certainly found myself dying quite a bit.
If there's no map piece, collect the duel symbol to trigger a boss fight (left)
Duels will end with the bad guy releasing one of the gems of the Amulet of Nine Lives (right)
Enemies are a little more complex than your average platformer. You can shoot, punch or stab them multiple times until they're weak enough to fly off the screen spraying gold coins as they go. In response, they will often block or parry making you think about each encounter, especially when it comes to bosses. At the end of every other level, you'll confront one of these big bads. More often than not, they'll devolve into a mash of swirling blades as you button mash the Ctrl key until one of your health bars drop to zero. I'd have liked them to have more of a pattern to clue you in on their weak spots but in the end, they're like playing an early one-on-one fighter.
That's not to say they're devoid of personality. Each one of them is designed and animated beautifully with enough spoken quips to convince you of their personality. In fact, every anthropomorphic creature has this level of attention to detail, including you. On top of that, the slick animation doesn't get in the way of the responsive controls. Claw can stop on a dime, instantly attack and move mid-jump to be more precise in landing. The small platforms that make up much of each level are not too much of a pain because of this. Even when you do die - and you will often - the thoughtful placement of checkpoints and lack of unskippable scenes before trying again reduces frustration. The game will even remember collected gold and defeated foes too, allowing you to bypass that tricky treasure-hunting interlude on your way back to where you were.
Treasure plays a big part in the game. These collectables are everywhere and play a part in your score at the end of the level. In a rather unusual move, perhaps allowed by the superior hardware a PC has over consoles, the gold will not disappear after a short time. If you defeat a guard or smash a box, its contents will remain where it lands until you collect it or reach the end of the stage. This is one of my biggest pet-peeves in a collect-a-thon platformer so it's nice to see that it's not found here.
Your treasure map will gradually fill in as you complete stages (left)
You'll get a gem for your Amulet each time you defeat a boss (right)
Other than gold trinkets and food and vials that replenish health, there are a plethora of power-ups to pick up too. You can find bullets for your pistol, glowing orbs for your Magic Claw attack and dynamite. Press Shift to toggle between the three secondary attacks. For some temporary gains, there are some mouse-shaped catnip which will make you run faster and jump higher for a limited time. If you find one of these, it usually means that there is an out-of-reach gem, platform or secret nearby. Your sword can be given some mystical properties too. Find the Fire, Ice or Lightning sword and your normal attack will also shoot out a beam of elemental destruction. Again, like the invisibility invulnerability special items, these are only temporary.
While Claw remains a very tough game, it is also a very good one. It plays sublimely, with few cheap deaths or bad level design. It looks spectacular, with high-quality animation both in-game and in the substantial number of cutscenes. It's so good that a dedicated group of players support it with custom levels to this day (check them out here)! If platformers mostly found their home on consoles, PC owners can be assured that they found one of the best in Claw.
To download the game, follow the link below. This is a custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses dgVoodoo to run on modern systems. Design Document included. Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 403 Mb. Install Size: 472 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Claw is © Monolith Productions Inc
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me