The small hero stands surrounded by crowds of shadowy enemies as a colorful wind encircles them, and the ground cracks and glows beneath them.

REVIEW / One Hand Clapping (PC)

 

Initially developed as a visceral input experiment by Thomas Wilson, and then as a class project with two other students at the University of Southern California, One Hand Clapping is most notable for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it is currently only available as an approximately 30 minute demo through itch.io. Secondly, the puzzle mechanics of this 2D platformer are controlled by the user’s voice.

 

The hermit and the hero stand on a cliff edge and sing floating rocks up to help them cross

 

As a name-your-own-price game, it received a decent amount of attention over the summer from various YouTube and Twitch channels, and more recently has been recognized as a favorite of audience and critics at IndieCade 2018.

The glimpses we see of the One Hand Clapping universe are compelling, full of hints at a complex backstory but no explained lore, a la Journey. The graphics are even similarly abstract, if a bit more cartoonish (in a good way). Beginning in a ruined city full of shadowy, watchful forms, you play as a largely genderless, roundish purple person, with big mournful eyes and a snazzy turquoise bandana. You quickly learn the basics of using your voice to manipulate the environment around you, and spend very little time in the incongruously gray and gloomy streets before escaping to a colorful desert wild (with no nightmare blob people watching you, bonus).

 

The hero stands on a lit platform surrounded by colorful orbiting shapes

 

 

There in the wild, you meet another colorful person, known as the hermit. He guides you through the more complex vocal mechanics of obstacle navigation in the wild. Other areas in the game include caverns, cliffs, and one mysteriously dark void full of invisible platforms and strange tonally controlled orbits.

Most of the voice mechanics are vaguely reminiscent of the Lead Singer mode in Rock Band; pitch and tempo matching are key to conjuring bridges and opening portals, but some are harder to decipher. The mysterious obelisks you encounter along the way (possibly save points, but I never died so I’m not sure) have symbols that indicate generally the pattern you should sing. They were definitely the most difficult to figure out.

 

The hero stands next to an obselisk-like shrine in a colorful desert landscape

 

 

The best part about this was being able to play with my son. He’s not quite two years old yet, and although he finds it interesting when his parents play video games, he is either quickly bored or frustrated by the fact that he can’t manipulate the characters on the screen the way we can. With the vocal input in One Hand Clapping, he could imitate the hermit character’s instructions as easily as I could, and he thought it was funny both to watch me sing my character across the screen as well as to throw his own notes on top of mine, giving me unexpected and always hilarious results. Even among games designed for toddlers, there’s not a lot that holds his attention like One Hand Clapping did- he was entranced for the entirety of the game.

Even if you don’t have a rambunctious tiny human lurking somewhere around your house, this game is really easy to enjoy with others despite being a one-player game. In my opinion, that’s why it enjoys such popularity with streamers; it makes you feel a little silly, but in a fun, let’s-order-pizza-post-snapchats-of-each-other-playing-this-game way. The artwork is beautiful, and the story, while mostly untold, is really well-developed for a demo game. Definitely check it out, and be sure to support the developers if you can!

One Hand Clapping is available from itch.io, learn more at their website or follow them on Twitter.

Raise Your Voice and Play

Summary

One Hand Clapping is largely noticeable because of its unique voice-activated mechanics, but it also a beautifully designed and well-thought-out game. Good for all ages and definitely one to watch as the development team continues to work.

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