Ayo the Clown Review (Switch)
Release Date: July 28, 2021
File Size: 3.6GB
Publisher: Cloud M1
Developer: Cloud M1
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
Indies are a critical part of the Switch’s success and vast library of games. I’m usually always playing one or two while alternating between them and a bigger AAA game. One particular genre I prefer to play is the side-scrolling, platforming action adventure. Some dub those Vanias or even Metroidvanias (should they include level-up mechanics), but in this case, Ayo the Clown is inspired by Yoshi’s Crafted World, Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country. So how does a side-scrolling platformer that claims to have RPG elements fare? Let’s discuss.
You will instantly see that Ayo the Clown is a game crafted with care, as the charm and character surface right away. You control Ayo, a clown whose puppy has been kidnapped overnight and now must set out on a quest to find his furry friend. Ayo will run into a bunch of NPCs on his quest to find his dog, and in every occurrence, Ayo is more than willing to put aside his task temporarily to help a person in need. Ayo’s kindness is a key theme that is carried through the story to its happy conclusion.
When it comes to gameplay, Ayo the Clown takes a lot of inspiration from other titles in the genre, yet adds its own unique twist to the formula. Right away you will notice that Ayo doesn’t have any abilities aside from moving left and right. You will soon run into townsfolk (NPCs) who will give you side quests, which are actually required quests. You need to complete these tasks to get an ability via trophy in order to proceed through the rest of the level. These side quests usually involve transporting someone to another area of the level or collecting a certain number of items from a part of the level.
While all the levels in the game have a start and end point, you don’t just traverse left to right. For example, you may get to a point where you run into an NPC, go down into an area of the level to complete the quest, return back up to the NPC, get the ability and then continue upward to the end of the level. The abilities you are rewarded with are all traversal-based, ranging from jumping, slope sliding, ground pounding, wall climbing and more. One ability you unlock and is key to traversing the game is the double jump, which is actually where Ayo gets a clown-trademark balloon. The balloon is a key ability and can actually be upgraded in the town, more on that in a minute.
As you traverse levels and complete quests, you’ll collect gems (the game’s form of currency), hidden teddy bears, and lollipops- of which there are three- in each level. I am not sure what finding all of them does, as I did not go back to prior levels with my new abilities to find the rest. There are also toys which can be found, but I am also not entirely sure the purpose of them, as I was given two of them. There are ten to find in total and can be viewed from the toybox setting at any time.
Ayo the Clown isn’t shy to show its inspirations, as Donkey Kong country shines through in several levels. There is a minecart level of course, and there are also vehicles! Ayo gets to drive a plane, tank, and helicopter, to name a few. Some of the boss battles even incorporate these alternate traversal styles, which adds a nice variety to the makeup of the levels.
The game has an overworld map, which you use to access the game’s thirty levels and other areas. I found each level to range from -five to ten minutes in length to complete. As you progress through the overworld, the theme will change to match the levels in that area, but it all fits together seamlessly, and nothing feels out of place. After beating the first world, a town and tent will open up on the map. You can visit the town to meet more NPCs, as well as others who will show up, which you can interact with as you complete their quests. One NPC here will sell you a balloon upgrade for 25,000 gems. The balloon upgrade is nice, but I didn’t collect 25,000 gems until a little over two thirds of the way through the game. I should use it to go back and get the remaining collectibles I am missing.
Ayo has a lives system, where more can be found in each level as well as the ability to earn more as you collect a number of gems. If you die and run out of lives, you will return to the overworld and lose progress in the level you were working on. The game is fair in that respect- if a world is too difficult or the controls are cumbersome, you can always adjust the difficulty. I played the game on normal, but turned it to easy once just to see the difference. On easy you get four hearts- versus three on normal- and some of the levels are reworked to make the obstacles easier. Even some of the boss fights are adjusted on easy difficulty only have to hit a boss three times versus six.
Ayo on normal difficulty has plenty of checkpoints within each level. You can find a heart piece or two scattered around a level if you lose one. Also peppered throughout the level are weapon bubbles. Weapons are a temporary buff, and can come in the form of a sword, water balloons (which are good to put out flames on platforms), or an oversized hammer. If Ayo takes damage, not only does he lose the weapon ability, he also loses a heart piece.
On the world map, you will also find some fishing spots- these are a fun, yet simple mini game you can use to get some bonus gems, which will aid you in getting to that 25,000 mark needed for the balloon upgrade.
Presentation and Performance
For the most part, the game runs and performs well in either handheld or docked mode. The game has a beautiful, yet charming style which can be seen both in-action and in the hand drawn pieces told in a storybook format between levels, all voiced by a narrator. Plenty of time was spent on the details, as each of the eight worlds has a unique theme and each level within each world feels different from one another. The developers even spent time giving Ayo several idle animations, from dancing to sleeping, if you ignore him for a bit. The music is simple, but does the job well enough, with some of the tracks sticking in your head as you traverse the levels.
In terms of performance, I did have a couple of instances where I couldn’t get Ayo to move and had to resort to using the reset to last checkpoint option. This could be related to the controls, as Ayo would appear stuck, and therefore unable to move. There is also a boss fight where fan blades spun into and out of the foreground, but sometimes disappeared for a second and made avoiding them difficult. Aside from those select instances, the game runs fine, just the controls overall could be refined a bit.
Overall, I was left mixed on Ayo the Clown. You can really tell there was passion put into this project, as the characters, level design, and theming, boss fights and story are all details and well done. The controls left me frustrated at times, as they were not as tight as I would expect from a platformer. I often found myself struggling with the slide and wall grab abilities, and sometimes felt they didn’t register or respond to my inputs. Playing on a pro-controller did help, but didn’t resolve the issue entirely. In both cases, I had several instances where Ayo would go into a ground pound and fall to his demise when I didn’t want him to perform that action.
If you are an RPG fan hoping that the mention of huge weapons, skills, side quests and collectibles in a store listing will fulfill your RPG needs and make this a true Metroidvania, I am sad to say it won’t. As I mentioned previously, most of the quests are required to gain the necessary ability to progress and weapons are only a temporary ability, and I found just jumping on the enemies worked better then using the weapons, as they seemed delayed, for the most part.
Overall, if you or your kids are looking for a charming platformer that isn’t too difficult, can be completed in a sitting or two and tells a cute story about kindness then Ayo the Clown is for you. However, if you are looking for a clown-inspired RPG you will need to go to a different circus.