Cloudberry Kingdom Review
Pwnee Studios' debut title, Cloudberry Kingdom, lives up to its developer's namesake by being one of the toughest, most insane-looking platformers in the history of gaming. Inspired by the awe-inspiring, deathless speedruns of classic platformers, such as the 11 minute long completion of Super Mario Bros. 3, Cloudberry Kingdom tested my mettle with elaborate deathtraps that are on par with Super Meat Boy and the Saw horror series. Don't let its fluffy name fool you, Cloudberry is more than just clouds and berries, it is one of the most relentless platforming titles ever made. With thousands of deaths all done in the name of both trial-and-error, does Cloudberry Kingdom justify its traps and pitfalls? Or is this a one-hit-kill that we should just jump over?
Initially, I was amazed by the demo footage that airs when you first load Cloudberry Kingdom. As a fan of various Mega Man, Contra and Mario speedrunning footage, I was astonished while watching Cloudberry's introductory gameplay. While the pictures of Cloudberry might be clustered with a plethora of things that cause one-hit-kills, it is even crazier to see these deathtraps all moving in unison, hinting at extremely small windows of opportunity where your character may proceed. In platforming, timing is everything, but Cloudberry Kingdom not only rewards those with perfect timing, but also those who are willing to just dive headfirst without looking.
Cloudberry utilizes a form of algorithm-based, procedural generation in order to randomly create its levels. In other words, no two levels are the same because each one is randomly filled according to the specific parameters set as Cloudberry generates its levels on the spot. The resulting effect is that we might see the same traps used 50+ times in a level, but their placement is never the same. But the programming of this game is very precise and most levels, even those of the highest difficulty, are doable, despite how insidious and impossible the levels may seem.
The story of Cloudberry Kingdom is rather laughable. You play as Bob (voiced by Hercules himself, Kevin Sorbo!), a failed hero who is trying to rescue a princess (voiced by Sorbo's wife), from the diabolical King Kobbler. Cloudberry's story mode contains a host of cutscenes depicting Bob with a head that looks like it was made out of paper-mâché. While this material explains why Bob is so fragile, I understand Pwnee's intent in creating Cloudberry's cutscenes using Sega Saturn-esque graphics; they are trying to evoke a sense of the days of old. But the events that unfold in the cutscenes, much like the extremes of platforming this title took me to, try to turn the platforming genre on its head.
The graphics of Cloudberry Kingdom are nothing spectacular. In fact, much of it looks like a flash game. Combined with the retro cutscenes, Cloudberry Kingdom seems like it came out a decade or two too late. But, once I started proceeding through the game to the more advanced levels, I realized that all the in-game models were kept simple due to the magnitude in which I would encounter them. The deathtraps of Cloudberry Kingdom went from sporadic, to frequent, to many, to WTF-this-is-astronomical in just a few dozen levels. Seeing hundreds of spiked wheels, lasers, ball-and-chains, falling blocks, fire-traps and falling platforms each moving on the screen all at once was quite astonishing. The number of accessories and outfits you can put on your character are rather charming, but there is nothing else particularly noteworthy in terms of visuals. Other than the sheer magnitude of its traps, Cloudberry Kingdom's graphics are rather dull.
Cloudberry's soundtrack makes up for what it lacks in the graphical department. The songs are very upbeat and push you to keep trying no matter how many times Bob dies.
The gameplay of Cloudberry is something of wonder, and its controls are amazing tight. The only button you have to worry about is the jump button, the other buttons are there for the sake of restarting the level or confirming that you'd like to move onto the next stage. Never before have I been so worried about landing on an exact pixel of a moving block, knowing that it was really matters if I'm just a millimeter off.
Cloudberry Kingdom's gameplay atones for every shortcoming that its graphics has. It not only requires a perfection of side-scrolling platforms and precise timing, but it also encourages you to try something new. Certain maps can't be beaten unless you run towards the finish line as fast as you can from the get-go. This becomes ever more evident during the levels with the dozens of traps on the screen: if you pause to line up a jump, the traps will get you. This encourages speedruns throughout most of the levels. The resulting experience is one of platforming bliss, where I became thoroughly addicted and ended up doing dozens and dozens of levels before I even wanted to take a break..
Ultimately, I recommend Cloudberry Kingdom for anyone that is a fan of platforming speedruns. Based on the pictures, Cloudberry Kingdom might seem as if many of its levels were impossible, but I assure you, you will keep wanting to go at it. Furthermore, Pwnee's incorporation of solid multiplayer gameplay, randomized level generations, and its multitude of gameplay types left me thoroughly entertained. Even better is the option to pause, and watch the computer successfully navigate the level after being stumped at a certain trap. And finally, nothing is like cranking the difficulty to the max setting and making it through the level in a cardboard box where I can only jump, not run.
This review is based on a digital copy of Cloudberry Kingdom for the Xbox Live Arcade.