How an obscure fighting game became one of the rarest and most expensive N64 games in existence

ClayFighter Sculptor’s Cut’s rise to glory is as strange as its character design

Posted by Steven 'Dreamking23' Chavez • August 24, 2017 at 1:21 p.m. PDT

In November 1993 the world was introduced to the wacky, clayotic, bizarre fighting game series known as ClayFighter. Taking inspiration from the big-name fighting titles of the era, the Super NES' clay-based brawler brought audiences a fun and unique fighting experience.

From deranged snowmen to pumpkin-headed ghosts, ClayFighter featured a veritable smorgasbord of kooky combatants that quickly caught the attention of gamers everywhere. Couple its interesting design with the series’ influences from Street Fighter, Killer Instinct, and Mortal Kombat, its goofy sense of humor, and over-the-top antics, and you had a franchise destined for greatness.

Over the course of its lifespan, ClayFighter traversed several different gaming consoles, went from 2D battles to tests of strength on a 3D plain, and even saw characters from outside IPs enter the fray. Its last hurrah came on the Nintendo 64, and it is here where the franchise reached legendary status, but not for the reasons you might expect.

Interplay’s first venture onto Nintendo’s popular 64-bit system came about in 1997. ClayFighter 63 1/3 – a name often thought to be a parody of the “64” naming convention the console was known for – was set to feature 17 playable characters, over 30 different levels each divided into several stages that fighters could transition through, and was gearing up to be “what ClayFighter should have been from the start,” according to the game’s producer Jeremy Airey. As many who delved into the clayzy competitive fighter know, what was eventually released to the public fell quite short of the mark.

One of the first snags ClayFighter 63 1/3 (known at the time as ClayFighter 3) hit was its platform of choice. Originally, the game was in development for Matsushita’s M2 console. Unfortunately, the system never came to fruition, forcing Interplay to avert course and set up shop with Nintendo and Sony.

In a 1996 interview with N64.com (via IGN), Airey spoke on the differences between developing ClayFighter on the M2 vs. the N64, explaining that the latter left far more room for the team to breathe.

”One of the great things about N64 is the lack of bull&$#! you have to cut through to do what you want with the machine,” Airey said. “The N64 manual is literally one small binder. This is as opposed to about seven binders 3 inches thick for M2, with a huge library of stuff that you had to use. N64 gives you the specs on accessing the hardware. And from there, it's your boat.”

ClayFighter Extreme, the PlayStation version of the game, was also in the works, but was ultimately scrapped. "The reason that Interplay decided not to develop it is because it was not on schedule for release simultaneously with the N64 version,” the company’s PR Manager at the time, Lisa Fleury, told GameSpot back in 2000. “Rather than have it be perceived by PSX consumers as a late port, we decided to stop the project and focus on ensuring simultaneous releases for our other cross-platform titles."

Release date delays seemed to be a curse that not even ClayFighter’s resident voodoo witch doctor, Houngan, could dispel.

Gearing up for release, 63 1/3 saw a main feature (and cover) in the June 1997 issue of Nintendo Power. The magazine included a full 12-page spread with details on the various fighters, intricate stages, and even an early review of the game.

"One of the great things about N64 is the lack of bull&$#! you have to cut through to do what you want with the machine..."
— ClayFighter producer Jeremy Airey, 1996.

Now, when one thinks of an “early” review, what usually comes to mind is a critique of the game shortly before its official release – in other words, a standard gaming review. That was not the case here, as Nintendo Power noted in their column that the version they were given was actually incomplete.

”When we started this article, we thought that CF 63 1/3 would be finished in time for a complete review. It isn’t, and we’re just sick about it, but it’s not going to stop us from covering the game anyway,” the article reads.

Furthermore, Nintendo Power notes that ClayFighter 63 1/3 was slated for a July 15th, 1997 release. The game did not reach the hands of the public until later that year, October 23rd.

Despite its various delays, 63 1/3 launched with an obvious lack of quality and several precarious content cuts.

The original 17-character roster was cut down to 12 due to file space limitations, removing the following five characters: main antagonist Dr. Kiln’s faithful hound Lockjaw Pooch, living clay statue Lady Liberty, the cannibalistic Zappa Yow Yow Boys, High Five (Kiln’s severed hand), and an alcoholic, homeless fighter gracefully named “Hobo Cop.”

A company forced to cut characters shortly before launch could only hope that players might not notice the missing fighters. Unfortunately for Interplay, Lockjaw Pooch was featured prominently on the cover of ClayFighter 63 1/3. Likely to soften the blow from this oversight, an in-game message declares Lockjaw dead.

ClayFighter 63 1/3 and Sculptor's Cut image #1 ClayFighter 63 1/3 and Sculptor's Cut image #2

In addition to these omissions, the N64 title suffered from buggy backdrops with bad camera angles, poor character animation, sluggish gameplay, and an overall terrible presentation. Reviews from major gaming publications such as GameSpot, IGN, and GamePro scored the game in the 3/10 range, while Nintendo Power’s follow up review after the game’s official release was much more positive than the others.

Roughly six months after the release of 63 1/3, Interplay fired back with a new, special edition of the game. ClayFighter Sculptor’s Cut looked to right the wrongs of its predecessor.

"Though Sculptor’s Cut was a more polished, complete package – one fans were hoping to get with 63 1/3 -- it came with an interesting catch... "

The updated title moved from a 96 megabits cartridge size to 128, giving the development team enough room to bring back four of the five previously abandoned fighters. Sculptor’s Cut also improved the camera angles, added more detail to the backdrops, reintroduced the singing intro theme song from the original game, added a legitimate main menu, and implemented several balance and gameplay changes.

The fifth character, Hobo Cop, was the only fighter who never saw the light of clay. As shown in Nintendo Power, the strange character was fully fleshed out and had a move list, but was reportedly not approved by Nintendo at the time due to his references to alcohol.

ClayFighter 63 1/3 and Sculptor's Cut image #3

A video that claims to show a prototype for PlayStation’s ClayFighter Extreme exists on YouTube today. In it, we see an alleged glimpse at Hobo Cop in-game, although it only showcases his idle animation.

Video source: Mike Mika.

Though Sculptor’s Cut was a more polished, complete package – one fans were hoping to get with 63 1/3 -- it came with an interesting catch...

Instead of being a regular retail game that players could purchase, Sculptor’s Cut was only available as a rental title exclusively at Blockbuster Video – a now defunct business -- in North America. Fans were given the opportunity to win a copy via a contest held by the video rental establishment, but most people – myself included – could only get their hands on the updated game by slapping down their Blockbuster membership card.

Only an estimated 20,000 copies of the game were produced, making it much more difficult to obtain.

As it stands now, ClayFighter Sculptor’s Cut is often regarded as one of the rarest games to ever exist on the N64. Though the power of the internet has made it easier to score a copy of your own, actually doing so will cost you a pretty penny.

Current day listings (2017) on eBay start at $350 for a loose cartridge. If you’re the type of collector that wants this game complete in the box, however, you’re looking at between $1,500 - $4,500 USD.

Sculptor’s Cut is so rare, in fact, that back In May of 2013, the manual on its own – that’s right, just the game’s instruction manual -- sold for $1,377 on eBay .

You can check out a couple of screenshots from the completed auction below.

ClayFighter 63 1/3 and Sculptor's Cut image #4

Sad to say, ClayFighter's legacy ended with Sculptor's Cut as there has not been a new entry in the franchise since. In early 2015, it was announced that the next ClayFighter title was in development and slated for a 2016 release, but it was presumed cancelled when Interplay sold off its significant IP portfolio -- including ClayFighter -- in August 2016.

The game would feature classic characters such as Bad Mr. Frosty, Blue Suede Goo, Earthworm Jim, Hoppy, Boogerman, and Tiny, and would contain a roster with over 20 playable fighters. On top of that, new game mechanics would be introduced, including air dashing, double jumps, reversals, and counters, and each character was set to have their own super moves and Claytalities.

All that remains of the project today is the initial reveal trailer, which showed no new assets or anything related to the game, and a listing for it on Interplay's website that still shows a 2016 release date.

In recent years, we've seen the resurrection of classic fighting franchises that many thought were gone for good. I can only hope that ClayFighter, someday, follows suit.

Even if it never makes a return, one thing's for sure: ClayFighter has cemented its status as one of the most legendary titles to ever hit the N64.

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