Monday, 5 August 2013

Cloudberry Kingdom review

There is a specific type of platformer games that are insanely hard to play, rewarding in a way that no other genre can ever be, and they only appeal to a certain hardcore demographic. Super Meat Boy is probably the most well known, and was pretty much a perfect platformer; it was easy to learn and took a lot of time and hard work to master. The newest entry into this sadistic genre is Cloudberry Kingdom. Don't be fooled by the sweet, innocent sounding name, this game will truly test you to the limits. Developed by Pwnee Studios and published by Ubisoft, it has quite a unique feature that hasn't been seen in many platformers before; procedurally generated levels. Find out how this affects the game, and if it's worth checking out, in the full review below!

Cloudberry Kingdom is the story of Bob, and his quest to save the princess. It's a classic platformer story; evil guy steals princess, Bob must rescue the princess and win her affections. It's a very basic story that doesn't really matter, but it's told through awesome looking cut-scenes, which look like they're made out of cardboard. They're very stylish and high quality. The game is set across a massive number of short levels, each taking anywhere from a few seconds to thirty. It also introduces many new gameplay elements on the fly, and takes them away just as easily. So some levels, you'll be able to double jump, sometimes you'll be mini-Bob, and others will allow you to use a jetpack. Then on the next level, you can be back with the basic jump. It's a great way of mixing up the gameplay, but it does mean that there is no actual character progression, just the levels get harder.

This is a cakewalk compared to some later levels

Cloudberry Kingdom feels strange to play, as the physics aren't very complex. It feels like you're playing a Flash game, or an old NES game. Perhaps it was going for this, to further the similarities with the original Mario game, but it feels like a step back when you have Super Meat Boy with perfect physics and accurate controls. You soon get used to it though, but this sort of game really does require precise movement to avoid the many traps and enemies. Perhaps the coolest thing about Cloudberry Kingdom is the fact that the levels are procedurally generated, meaning that as you improve, the levels get harder and harder. So if you get a perfect time, all of the gems and don't die at all, the next level will be significantly more challenging. It's a great feature as it basically means that each player will have a unique experience. It also means that you get a chance to improve at a speed that's perfect for you, not when the game thinks you're ready. The only thing with random levels is that no thought went into creating a tough level. Other platformers work so well, even the insanely difficult ones, because someone sat down and lovingly created each level. You don't get that feeling with Cloudberry Kingdom, and it really does detract from the game in quite a big way.

If you do happen to get stuck on a really tough level, you can purchase power-ups with your collected gems. These all last for just this level, and can help in a variety of ways. You can see the AI play through the level, show a helpful path through the level, or activate slow motion for help with precise jumps and manoeuvres. They can be really helpful when a level is destroying your patience. Cloudberry Kingdom also has a really awesome set of customisation items, ranging from normal hats and faces, to bizarre items such as huge stag antlers and fireball heads. Customisable characters is always a nice feature, and this has such a comprehensive selection, perhaps only beaten by the recent Xbox Live Arcade hit, Battleblock Theatre.

Now we're getting a little more difficult...

There are also Arcade and Free Play modes, which allow you to play special mini-games like a time-attack, and there are a bucket-load of unlockable characters which can drastically alter the gameplay. Free play allows you to create a level exactly how you want it. You can change the setting, difficulty, amount of checkpoints, length, and hero. Not only that, but you can change all of your hero's  base stats, meaning you can literally create your own power-up and gameplay style. It's a really deep feature, and there are no other XBLA games which allow this level of freedom. You can spend a hell of a long time customising and testing all of these features.

Cloudberry Kingdom seems like quite a basic game. The Flash-like graphics and simple 2D platforming mechanics can easily fool you. What lurks underneath is an unforgiving game, with an awesome level generator, incredibly deep customisation of basically everything, and a lot to do. Pwnee Studios have developed the latest game that will have you tearing your hair out in pure frustration. All it lacks is that certain charm that other platformers like Super Meat Boy and Battleblock Theatre ooze. As the levels are randomly generated, it means that they weren't perfectly crafted, with an idea in mind. And that's why Cloudberry Kingdom doesn't quite reach the same heights as those, and will never really be considered a must-play.


by Louis Gardner

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