Counterclockwise is the sort of game so virtually perfect you almost wish you hadn’t downloaded it. It encompasses the giddy experience of finding that diamond in the digital rough, but afterwards you feel guilty if you don’t work hard enough to spread the word of its existence.
Part of the 2006 Retro Remakes competition, Counterclockwise is a remake of a ZX Spectrum title, Knot in 3D. In turn, Ki3D was inspired by the light cycle sequences in Tron. Remember those? You must have, they’re the things people remember most vividly from Tron, frequently with the fortunate side-effect of forgetting the remaining dreadful 90 minutes. In Counterclockwise, you’re still in control of futuristic vehicles that leave solid walls in their wakes. But in addition to forward, left, and right, you can now travel up and down. Each stage can host up to ten CPU opponents, and after very little playing time, it’s like navigating around a network of rainbow pipes compressed into a tight cube.
Every challenge you can think of for a no-budget project emulating an old obscure game inspired by a lame Jeff Bridges movie is overcome. You can collect power ups, gain points to advance to the next level, and shoot at the CPUs and blow openings through the walls. Though you travel in five directions, there’s a “freelook” that truly allows you to shoot and observe in 3D. There’s a robust stunt construct: you get points and items for performing dangerous moves against the walls, like loops around them or charging at one and changing at the last possible second. Combo these tricks together and your reward is even greater. And the overall presentation comes together nicely: the Internet high score upload, the menus, the graphics, the sound effects, and even the voiceovers excel beyond what you expect from an independent.
The only fault to be found in Counterclockwise is that the game can drag on too long. Though the enemies engage in evasive maneuvers, they don’t shoot back. And you gain points every second, so a conservative player who doesn’t go for stunts will eventually make it to the next stage. A skilled player can play for half an hour, repeating for 29 minutes the same things she did in the first. So when you play Counterclockwise, you have to want to gleam the cube. You have to want to create dangerous wall formations, and then loop around and do tricks on them, like your own instant skate park. Still, it shouldn’t be hard to find volunteers. Counterclockwise brings out something we never knew we had, the primitive urge to play chicken with neon walls.