Review: Cloudberry Kingdom is a magical platformer that hates you
There's something to be said about a 2D platformer that can challenge you, make you curse, and ultimately leave you with a stupefying sense of accomplishment. Cloudberry Kingdom from developer Pwnee Studios is one of the latest games in the genre set out to both drive people nuts and leave them absolutely ecstatic upon completion. While its procedurally generated level formula makes for some weird spikes and dips in both difficulty and quality, the end result is a game that fans of the genre should totally check out, because it's just stupidly ridiculous fun.
Story Mode features nearly 300 levels of platforming bliss and brutality as you tackle the typical “save the princess who was dumb enough to get captured” plot device. While the tale itself isn't remarkable, there are some lightly humorous cutscenes sprinkled in between chapters. These feature a nice papercraft-esque visual style and star Kevin Sorbo (from Hercules, man!) as the heroic Bob, as well as Sorbo's wife Sam, who takes on the role of the aforementioned dumb princess. The cutscenes aren't amazingly hilarious, but they're purposely filled with clichés and self-awareness to warrant a good chuckle. They also provide a bit of respite if you're playing for long sessions.
If only the entire game looked like this.
The game uses procedural generation to create stages with different parameters, but it always turns out beatable levels. Even if you see horrifying amounts of obstacles falling and spinning onscreen, there's a way to progress. It may not look like it at first, but once you've played long enough, you start to think differently. This may sound a bit strange, but after spending a few hours with Cloudberry Kingdom, I almost started to feel as if I were thinking like the game. I adjusted my way of getting around lava falls, fireballs, spikes, and other deadly traps all at the same time, because more often than not, these elements all get in my way simultaneously.
Cloudberry Kingdom almost appears insane in the way it throws danger at you. The platforming mechanics are solid, and the level designs are decent, but it's the various hazards thrown your way that make this game really stand out. You can essentially get through each level within a matter of seconds, but due to the high concentration of spiked balls, Mario-esque spinning fire bars, and vanishing ghost platforms, a high level of tension is present all too often. It's enough to make you question if you can really clear a stage. You definitely can, but sometimes it's hard to believe it.
Aside from your basic running and jumping, several power-ups manage to change things up considerably. The most common include a double jump and jetpack, but it doesn't take long for things to get crazy. Tiny Bob can jump higher, while Fat Bob is more prone to hitting an obstacle. Then there's Phase Bob, which constantly shifts from small to large and back again, forcing you to constantly change your strategy. Other power-ups include a spacecraft that looks like something from a 2D shoot 'em up and an auto-moving minecart that requires carefully timed jumps. That's not all, though. Things get really wacky when the game starts combining power-ups. By the way, these aren't optional items you just pick up — you start the levels with these.
Platformer difficulty rating: Meh.
Along the way you collect coins that can be used to buy yourself a little help. Accrue enough coins (an easy feat considering the things are everywhere) and you can purchase one of three (or, hell, all three, because why not?) different tips. The first is a simple run through the stage by an AI-controlled Bob that shows you what you need to do to move on. The second is a dotted path that you can follow (along with a big moving dot) to get to the end. Last is the ability to slow down time, which can definitely come in handy in later stages but feels especially like cheating.
There are a few alternate modes for you to dig into. Arcade lets you play through numerous stages with different prerequisites. These include lives, time limits, and random power-ups. Then there's Free Play, which lets you set the difficulty, checkpoint occurrence, and other gameplay parameters. Arcade is more fun due to its structured design, but Free Play is cool to play around with. It also allows you to play levels that you save in other modes to your heart's content. I, for example, have a bunch of saved stages that I look forward to showing off when friends come over. Speaking of friends, Cloudberry Kingdom supports multiplayer for up to four people, which really only adds to the outlandish difficulty.
Platformer difficulty rating: Whoa!
You'd think that a game with a lengthy campaign (it took me roughly 10 hours to get through), fun secondary modes, four-person multiplayer, and practically limitless levels would be a 2D platformer fan's dream come true. While this game is certainly a gem, a few things came to mind while I played for hours on end. For starters, the procedurally generated format means you get a wildly fluctuating degree of quality and challenge. Not every level is a great, and the ones that aren't stand out immensely. The challenge can also vary, and it's not uncommon to go through crazily intense stages only to encounter a painfully dull level out of nowhere and vice versa.
The graphics in Cloudberry Kingdom are really hit-or-miss. I'm a sucker for bright colors, and in that department, the game really delivers. After a while, though, the backgrounds start getting boring and you see a lot of the same stylistic themes for long periods of time. This is almost like a cross between a Flash game and a weird pseudo-art project on DeviantArt. As previously established, the cutscenes look rad, and it actually would've been really cool if the whole game featured a papercraft look.
I really dug the music showcased during the course of my playthrough. Themes are catchy and just sound really good. Unfortunately, there are only a few of them, so if you're playing for even an hour at a time, you're bound to start hearing the same tracks over and over again. Still, the music is good, so while I personally wish there would've been more of it, at least what's there is good enough to be enjoyable throughout.
Platformer difficulty rating: Welcome to die.
The Wii U version of Cloudberry Kingdom features off-TV play courtesy of the GamePad. Sadly, there are no leaderboards to speak of for folks who dig that sort of thing, though Pwnee has promised that an update is coming. Additionally, you can't share saved levels, which is kind of a bummer. There's also no way to play with other people online, though honestly, it's hard to see how a game this hectic would work with complete strangers. Maybe you're better off with the omission, because the last thing you need is to pair up with jerks who only make the game harder to play. Unless... you're the jerk! (The plot thickens!)
If you're a big fan of platformers, there's no denying that you need to play Cloudberry Kingdom. It's not the best representation for the genre, and the procedural generation makes it feel slightly less special, but it's insanely fun nonetheless. It's also super challenging and highly rewarding most of the time, and it really requires you to play your heart out at times. If anything, this venture made me curious as to what the future holds for Pwnee. Here's hoping the next game features a large collection of original levels created by the studio. For now, though, enter the land of Cloudberry Kingdom and have a genuinely good time with it.
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