Publisher tinyBuild Games is no stranger to wacky game concepts. From assassinating pixelated partygoers in Pinokl Games' Party Hard to sneaking around a neighbor's house in Dynamic Pixels' Hello Neighbor, tinyBuild's games are as eccentric as they are unique.
Clustertruck, initially released in September 2016 and developed by Landfall Games, fits right in with tinyBuild's penchant for the absurd. The game takes the timeless, boredom-curbing activity of playing "the floor is lava" and adds a far-from-boring flair to it: the "safe space" is a high-speed pack of moving trucks.
Now, in 2018, Clustertruck has made its way to the Nintendo Switch, allowing players to reimagine their childhood escapism from the comfort of their couches. With its simple yet addicting gameplay and varied level design, Clustertruck offers some blissful, if mindless, entertainment for Switch owners. While its disappointing ability upgrades and lack of challenging levels hinder its lasting appeal, Clustertruck is some great fun during its brief run-time.
As its punny title suggests, Clustertruck is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously. During each of its levels, players are tasked with leaping from white truck to white truck in order to make their way to a finish line marked "GOAL." As is expected, however, riding this flock of gas-guzzling, dust-spewing vehicles isn't exactly a walk in the park. Like a gaggle of geese stumbling through Central Park, these trucks are constantly crashing into each other and swerving into obstacles, making navigation a tricky affair.
Thankfully, controls in Clustertruck are simple yet effective. Gameplay takes place via a first-person viewpoint. Players move with one stick and look around with the other. A tap of the A button lets players jump, and holding the right bumper while moving grants players added speed to make death-defying leaps.
Outside of these moves, players also have access to a selection of unlockable abilities earned throughout the game. From a slo-mo skill that slows down trucks and oncoming obstacles, to a grappling hook that allows players to launch themselves to a faraway vehicle, these tools are activated via the left bumper or trigger (only two can be equipped at a single time), allowing for some additional leeway in completing the objective at hand.
Clustertruck's gameplay is chaotic, but fun. With such straightforward controls, the game has free rein to explore its off-the-wall premise to the fullest. Levels are an equal mix of absorbing platforming and ridiculous stunts, the latter in large part due to the game's unpredictable physics engine. Even when I felt confident hopping and leaping across a given level, I was constantly kept on my toes; trucks tend to veer off in random directions, while others tumble and crash in a blaze of glory. It's this melding of tight platforming with crazy, RNG-influenced hazards that makes Clustertruck so addictive.
While this gameplay could have grown tiring by itself, Clustertruck stays fresh throughout thanks to its varied level design. The game houses 90 different levels across nine different worlds (105 levels if you count two optional Halloween and Christmas-themed worlds). From your typical desert, forest, and snow worlds to more inventive medieval and sci-fi ones, Clustertruck's different environments ensure that levels and their respective hazards don't wear out their welcome. Whether it be jumping over pieces of lumber, dodging lasers, or avoiding pendulum-swinging traps, there's always something new to look forward when working through Clustertruck's campaign.
Unfortunately, while Clustertruck offers plenty of entertaining moments, there simply isn't enough content here for the average player. The campaign is disappointingly short, clocking in at around two to three hours, depending upon your skill level. Outside of the aforementioned holiday-inspired levels that are tucked into a separate part of the main menu, there isn't much to come back to after beating the main game. Whereas the PC version of the game partially remedied this with timed-run leaderboards and a detailed in-game level editor, neither feature made it into the Switch version.
Another big reason for Clustertruck's lack of replayability stems from its lack of any real challenge. While individual levels gave me trouble here or there, I was generally able to blast through the game's worlds with ease. There's no considerable increase in difficulty between worlds one and nine; those who complete the former will surely be able to complete the latter. Though this may be welcome news for more casual gamers with little experience playing platformers, for most, it's a missed opportunity to build upon the game's individual mechanics and strengthen the overall experience.
While Clustertruck's unlockable abilities may offer some added incentive to replay past levels, most of them just aren't fun to use. Most, like the grappling hook, are restricted by lengthy cooldowns, requiring players to wait several seconds before using them again. During minute-to-minute (or, more accurately, second-to-second) gameplay, this usually resulted in my death. As a result, I spent most of my time in Clustertruck opting to use the two most basic abilities: the slo-mo, due to its generous cooldown, and the double jump, which requires no cooldown at all. As such, I felt little reason to jump back in and unlock everything else.
Despite its short run and lack of replayability, Clustertruck is a fun little title for the Nintendo Switch. The simple gameplay allows for some truly hectic moments, while varied level design keeps the action interesting from beginning to end. The lack of challenge or user-created content is a real bummer, but at budget price of $15, Clustertruck is a safe recommendation for those looking to kill a few hours on the open road.