Welcome to Cloudberry Kingdom, the game that abuses you with unfathomably difficult levels and then cheers you up by letting you die as many times as you want. This is a 2D platformer with an ambitious premise of randomly generated levels, but does that mean level design is thrown out the window? Luckily the other main feature of the game balances this out – customisation. I enjoyed my brief time with it at PAX and it made me curious enough to spend $15AU on the full game, which has just been released on Wii U, PS3, 360 and PC. I’ve spent some solid time with the game now and I’m happy to say Cloudberry Kingdom is the real deal.
The “random” nature of the difficulty might seem like a lost cause to platforming purists, but everything in the game is predictable. The learning curve is very quick and you get better at the game by learning the nature of each obstacle, rather than its position. The dynamic nature of the levels gives a different feeling to a structured game by constantly having the player on their toes. The controls are extremely tight and this is essential to the free-flowing nature, hit detection is pixel perfect and there’s a huge window for timing enemy ‘double’ jumps to avoid unexpected frustration. When you die you respawn immediately and you can even teleport back to the beginning of the stage by pressing L + R. I’ve never done this because I always think I’m going to make the jump, that’s just my style. There’s also an option to slow down time or watch a perfect CPU run of the level just to make you feel bad. While it’s true that sometimes an extra easy or hard level comes along, it’s just the nature of the beast. It’s a dance and the game is your partner, sometimes slowing down and speeding up. You just have to look it in the eye and feel the rhythm of your souls connected.
The game is broken up into Story Mode, Arcade Mode and Free Play. Story Mode has some amusing cutscenes full of puns and voice acting by Kevin Sorbo. It doesn’t actually sound much like Hercules but he does a good job and it’s a good bullet-point to sell the game on. Story Mode gives you a linear progression of chapters to follow with unlimited lives so you can chip away it at and progress through different locations with hundreds of levels. Arcade Mode is score based and gives you a limited amount of lives, encouraging you to collect gems for extra lives, get good times and not die. It’s as simple as that.
Free Play is the godsend of this game. This mode lets you pick the difficulty, location and even decide how many checkpoints will appear. It allows for a whopping 4 checkpoints which is pretty much after every difficult jump considering how short the levels are, and you can even adjust when they appear with a slider. The game WANTS you to have fun and it’s so refreshing to have a mode like this to just sit back and enjoy forever. The only negative about this mode is it loads slightly longer between levels and for some bizarre reason it also changes the music track every time. Some levels are done in 5 seconds so this is just baffling design in an otherwise perfectly designed game, especially when the name of the song flashes down the bottom of the screen. Nonetheless this loading is still only about 2 seconds, it’s only noticeable compared to Arcade Mode which transitions between levels immediately. If you like a level in Free Play you can save it to memory after you beat it, and load it up for a romp any time you want. I’ve never felt too attached to a level because I enjoy the change, but it’s a nice option for the day I do meet the level of my dreams.
The hero himself is customisable in more than just appearance, with different gameplay styles surfacing in the form of a double jump, jetpack, spaceship, mine-cart, pogo stick, wheel and even an upside down gravity shifting mechanic. Incredibly, the levels all adjust to accommodate the control method and the game continues to be awesome in every style. In Story Mode this happens by itself but in Free Play you can pick your poison, and Arcade Mode has a great mode called Hero Mode which changes the control style with every level. You’re a plane! No, you’re tiny! Where’d this box come from? Now you’re fat!
The games big weakness is unfortunately the art style. In screenshots it’s easy to mistake it for a school-room clipart project, but it looks a little better in motion when the incredibly smooth framerate kicks in. The simplistic nature is a fair choice to accommodate some of the crazy level design; there’s a LOT going on in the difficult levels and the game always pulls it off cleanly with no framerate drops. The music is also pretty bad, and the cheap ear-pounding drum beat was the first thing I noticed about the game. I tweeted how bad it was and the musicians actually replied to my tweet and apologised, which made me feel like a bit of a dick but a justified one. Some songs are OK and carry a decent ambiance but the whole style feels off to me. A complete lack of melody is contrary to games like Mighty Switch Force! and Mutant Mudds which benefit a huge deal from their music compositions. Luckily there is a volume slider for music and sound which I used possibly for the first time ever in a game.
As far as the Wii U version goes, it’s a straight port and just displays the exact same thing on the GamePad. It controls with the dpad and buttons just like the other versions, so the only real benefit is how comfortable it is, off-TV play, and sharing screenshots of insanely difficult levels in the Miiverse.
Cloudberry Kingdom is a difficult game with a very friendly design, and for this reason I can recommend it to everyone who enjoys 2D platforming. If you can get 4 people together for local multiplayer, even better. The controls are amazing and the unique aspect of the game doesn’t just come down to its notorious difficulty, but from the FEELING of hopping through the unknown. Whether you’re ready for it or not, the game is ready for you.