With a name like Cloudberry Kingdom you could be forgiven for thinking this was a kid’s game, full of fairies and princesses. Well there is a princess but she isn’t the sweet, innocent little girl you expect when you hear that word and believe me when I say this sure as hell isn’t a game for kids. It’s actually a gruelling platformer that will test your reflexes and timing to the limit. Think of any of the old Mario games. Right, got it in your head? Now shorten the levels to 30 seconds each. Done? OK, now add lasers, spikes, buzzsaws, lava, enemies, disappearing/moving platforms, fireballs and who knows what else. Oh and I forgot to mention, have all of those on screen at once. That’s Cloudberry Kingdom.
• Developer: Pwnee
• Publisher: Ubisoft
• Reviewed on: Xbox 360
• Also Available On: PS3, Xbox 360, Steam, Wii U, Vita, Mac, Linux
• Release Date: Available now / Fall 2013 on Vita, Mac, Linux
This is a game that is all about timing, precision movement, reactions and learning the correct route through each level. As you would expect with a game of this type the controls are rock solid. While they do feel slightly floaty at first you’ll adjust within five minutes and never even notice them again. Your character ‘Bob’ has three basic actions, run, jump and duck. These are offset however by twists in the gameplay which will be thrown at you every now and then such as double jump, jetpack, a pogo stick, tiny Bob, large Bob and even a cardboard box which cannot move except when jumping.
All these different ways to play control just as tightly as the standard controls and go a long way to keeping the game fresh although a couple serve to annoy rather than amuse. Phase Bob is the one that stands out most here. This is where Bob repeatedly grows and shrinks. This has an effect on movement as tiny Bob jumps higher and large Bob lower. And it also affects the hit box, so you could be standing where you assume you are safe only to grow and be hit by an obstacle. Don’t let my negativity scare you away however as this is the one small downside in an otherwise fantastic game.
There are three modes to play each with their own unique style. Story mode offers two hundred and forty levels with an additional forty after the game is cleared. Worryingly for players just starting out the extra forty levels are entitled “The Masochist”. Level one starts out nice and simple with you just jumping a few platforms and things get gradually more difficult from there on out. The difficulty in Story mode is expertly done, never getting too easy or moving too slowly and never making such a leap forward that you’re unprepared for what comes next. After about half an hour you’ll constantly feel like your at the edge of your abilities and you’ll stay that way until you finish the game because as you get better the game ratchets up the difficulty just enough to keep you on the edge of your seat. By the end you’ll be dodging lasers, jumping spikes and bouncing on bugs like it’s nobodies business, but you will, and I can’t stress this enough, never think to yourself “this is too easy” or “this is way too hard”.
There is also an actual story to go along with Story Mode, with cut scenes and everything! The story is tacked on but from the very beginning it feels like it’s intentional and never for a second takes itself even slightly seriously. The papier mache art style lends itself to this expertly. The story is simple, evil King Kobbler kidnaps the princess and Bob chases them down all the while grumbling that he’d rather be doing anything else but this.
After you’re finished with the story you have Free Play and Arcade mode to have fun with, and this is where the game really comes into its own. In Free Play you can tailor the game to your preference including difficulty, level type, number of checkpoints, level length etc. And to top it off the game comes up with an unlimited amount of levels to fit your specifications. You see, levels in Free Play and Arcade mode are procedurally generated. What this means is levels are randomly generated which technically gives you an infinite number of level variations. In Free Play this means once your settings are dialled in and you’re happy with everything you can play to your hearts content, safe in the knowledge that you will never run out of levels to torture yourself with.
Arcade mode on the other hand is a different beast entirely. You get four game modes here; Escalation, Time Crisis, Hero rush, and Hybrid Rush. Each one of these is noticeably different from the last. Escalation is pretty simple, you start off with a simple level and things get harder as you progress. Time Crisis decides to mix things up a little, levels are shortened to about 5-10 seconds each and you start with only a few seconds on the clock however you can collect gems to add seconds to the timer as you play. Hero Rush is essentially the same except each new short level throws at you one of the gameplay twists I mentioned earlier. And finally Hybrid Rush is the same as Hero Rush except gameplay twists get combined in each new level. For example; you might get a pogo stick with a jetpack, a tiny Bob cardboard box or even a rocket powered shopping trolley with a double jump.
Worth noting as well is that co op for up to four players is supported in all game modes and believe me when I say if you think the game is crazy with one player, just wait ’til you try it with four.
There is some small amount of customisation available as well. As you can see in the image above there are a few different options to customize and there are a few rather silly choices like being invisible (gulp!), having your head on fire, or a giant beard. The music is fantastic and suits the game perfectly though there is only about five tracks. However after a while you don’t even notice as you are generally so focused on dodging that bloody spike that’s killed you twenty times in a row that the music just becomes background noise.
Probably the most amazing thing about this game is that it defies your ability to get angry at it. Despite the fact that many times it took me fifty plus attempts to clear a level I never once grew even slightly frustrated. The tight controls coupled with short levels meaning I never lost more than thirty seconds progress with each death and impeccable level design meant that when I died I felt it was my fault. I found it impossible to be annoyed when I knew that I wasn’t being cheated by the game, that if I had delayed just a fraction longer, or timed that jump a little bit better I would have finished the level. And the satisfaction of beating a really tough level makes every second struggling to clear the previous totally worth it.