Lovely presented but lacking spit shine, Cloudberry Kingdom will only appeal to the most masochistic of platformer fans.
Cloudberry Kingdom is probably the most misleading name of this console generation. In the vein of Rayman, Cloudberry Kingdom looks soft and cuddly but is instead harder than the deepest layers of hell, with procedurally generated levels being the backdrop to loud pained screams of frustration. The question is, though, does Cloudberry Kingdom get to sit among the classic torture platformers of our age or does it just at the bottom of the pile?
The same levels copy themselves across the multiple arcade modes and story mode – they last anywhere between 10 and 30 seconds and are usually filled to the brim with deadly spike balls, lasers, spikes, bugs, more spikes…you get the idea. One hit and you’re gone. There’s gems you can pick up in the level which let you earn extra lives and score, and also unlock several helpful abilities for the harder stages. You play Bob, the reluctant hero chasing the big bad to get the princess. He starts out bald with a green suit and cape but you can customize him to a relatively surprising level – I eventually had the Pope running around with a black cape, which I found relatively hilarious.
The main mechanic outside of the procedural generation is that Bob tends to receive different abilities along the way, such as jetpacks, double jumps, or other additions that can be boiled down to being larger, smaller, having less friction and other similar tried and true mechanics (although the game throws a curve-ball by making you fly a spaceship at times). It kind of sucks if you have the difficulty up and you come across a new set of mechanics, but at least they all tend to control well (although anything that makes you larger feels like wanting to go hang yourself, due to wacky hitboxes). The controls are simple – D-Pad to move, X to jump, L1+R1 to quick respawn (you want to use this all the time – it often takes 2-3 seconds to die and respawn).
The game has an unusual feature where if you do well the difficulty on the next set of levels ramps up, but if you do badly on a level the difficulty will lower itself. The problem with this is that there doesn’t seem to be enough notches on the invisible difficulty slider – I often found myself finishing 3 levels in a row without a single death, followed by getting my backside handed to me on a level. After trying 50 times and eventually getting through with a combo of slow motion and “guide me through” power-ups, I managed to get through the next three levels without losing another life.
Even worse is that the two halves of each level are pretty clearly generated separately on 95% of the levels, so the difficulty on the first half of the level can be rock hard, then when you hit the halfway checkpoint you simply breeze through the suddenly halved enemy count on your first or second try. It’s more erratic than a mouse in a cheese shop. Sometimes the power-ups don’t even help – on one level I found one of the jumps completely impossible with the slow motion power-up (which I bought earlier in the level), but managed to pass it when I restarted the level.
It all leads to the game feeling a bit unstable – you never know if you’re going to be killed by something passing through you, you never know if the game will throw an ultra hard level or half-level at you, you never know if the next mechanic is going to drain all your lives in the arcade modes. I don’t know if this was intended as part of the “torture platformer” part, but I’m not that big of a fan of the difficulty spikes and random hitboxes and would prefer a tighter experience overall. It might have been tolerable if one of the powers gave you the option to generate a new level or lower the difficulty a little bit.
The main content outside of the relatively linear story mode is a full set of arcade modes where you can play a single mechanic for a high score, play a time attack run where the gems give you extra time instead of points, play a time attack run where you swap characters every now and again, yeah you get the idea. Every single permutation of these modes have their own online leaderboards as well, so grinding at the leaderboards is there for those who wish to torture themselves. There’s even an area where you can set some parameters for the game so it generates a level for you, and even play around with some settings of some of the play styles. Quite unfortunate however is the lack of online multiplayer, however there is local co-op (which I wasn’t able to test due to only owning 1 PS3 controller).
The entire presentation is actually really surprisingly nice. It’s no Rayman Origins but it’s bright, colorful, and distinct, which is kind of required for this genre. You can tell everything apart and it all looks pretty nice. The story is explained through somewhat comedic cutscenes which have a surprisingly low framerate, which isn’t pleasant to watch. They were probably going for a “papercraft” sort of style but it sits in a weird area between bright cel-shading and papercraft – the style would be a lot more solid if they picked one or the other instead of creating a weird mix. The soundtrack is pretty awesome, but I have a weird problem with it – the music is good, don’t get me wrong, but it just doesn’t seem to fit the tone of Cloudberry Kingdom. It’s not as bad as putting a pop song like Call Me Maybe into the latest Diablo title, but it’s a small disconnect that I felt the need to bring it up. Still good though.
Cloudberry Kingdom is a good idea that just need a little bit of extra elbow grease. A little bit of difficulty tweaking and tightening up some of the core mechanics would make this platformer a lot more accessible to the people who don’t want their backsides handed to them all the time, but right now it just stands as a game which can only be recommended to the hard-as-nails lovers. Or people who do bad Let’s Plays on YouTube.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
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