Cloudberry Kingdom Review
Cloudberry Kingdom is hard. Really hard. Really, really hard. Really, really, really… alright, sure, you get the point.
It’s the latest in the wave of 2D platformers ushered in this generation by XBLA and PSN, platformers that demand precision, lightning fast reactions and nerves of steel to progress.
Cloudberry Kingdom is a simple left to right affair with no significant verticality involved and no real puzzles or how-the-hell-do-I-get-past-that moments. Each level is a short, sharp burst of running through a sea of instant-kill obstacles – spikey balls and lasers get in your way while disappearing platforms and sinking clouds make progress tricky.
As the level counter ticks up, more and more death hazards block the way until the screen is full of them.
The timing of the obstacles seem random but as you sink more hours into the platformer, you realise that isn’t the case. There’s a sweet spot – usually just after the level starts – where chasm of obstacles opens up just about long enough that you can nip through unscathed. The challenge is making micro-adjustments to your speed and leaps on the fly as you pass through, your limited lives pool allowing you some chances to see what lies ahead while adding a pressure element.
This is what allows the difficulty to scale up to the platforming equivalent of bullet hell without Cloudberry Kingdom ever feeling overwhelming or impossible. You know no matter how dense the obstacles are, there will be a temporary safe passage through to the exit. It’s just a case of finding it and then hanging on for dear life once the leaping starts, while trying to nab the crystals along the way.
How To Complete Cloudberry Kingdom – Run Right, Jump?
It’s an interesting take on the genre. Levels are randomly generated, so there isn’t the usual process of learning and improving as you go. Instead, each level is a quickfire challenge of your skills, demanding you assess the obstacles ahead and try to reach the exit in one piece.
It actually works better as a high score attack than a straight up test of your finger dexterity – the score multiplier resets with each death so you have to stay focused and consistent throughout.
But that’s also the problem with Cloudberry Kingdom.
There’s no real nuance or interesting mechanics to explore, no tricky manoeuvres to pull-off, no real chance to experiment or poke and prod at the level design. You never really improve your skillset as you leap towards the exit. The margin of error becomes smaller and smaller as the number of obstacles increase but you never feel as though you’re being challenged in different ways.
That isn’t to say that Cloudberry Kingdom gets dull or lacks variety. Progressing through each level unlocks new toys to mess around with, such as a jetpack with limited boost or pogo unicorn. They’re fun but even these gimmicks don’t deviate from the core mechanics of vanilla Cloudberry Kingdom – you’re still picking the one safe path through the obstacles.
Cloudberry Kingdom also desperately needs a jolt of personality. ‘Splosion Man and ‘Ms Splosion Man had its hyperactive scattershot heroes, muttering snatches of song and noise between leaps. Super Meat Boy was powered by a gorgeous retro aesthetic, with both its pixellated visuals and throwback soundtrack. N+ had a clean, clinical look. Battleblock Theater had dark humour and the greatest song of all time.
Cloudberry Kingdom looks like a Flash game and its soundtrack is forgettable. Neither is a fatal flaw for Cloudberry Kingdom but it’s still a missed opportunity to inject the game with a dose of personality, or character, or charm, or something to help it stand out.
Cloudberry Kingdom’s Multiplayer Mayhem
The ace up Cloudberry Kingdom’s sleeve is its co-op multiplayer, which is where everything comes together in a glorious whole – the ease of playing, the mayhem trying to get all four players through the level, the randomly generated obstacles and the customisation of the characters. Play it online, it’s fun. Play it offline, it’s carnage and it’s fantastic.
The aim is still the same in multiplayer as it is in single player, with one player trying to make it through, but this time there’s the added distraction of three other players trying to do the same and in some cases, triggering obstacles such as collapsing platforms. It’s messy but in a fun way, standing alongside XBLA co-op greats like Bomberman Live, Spelunky and Castle Crashers.
As you can probably tell from our Cloudberry Kingdom review, it’s an odd platformer that will likely split opinion. It does everything well without ever excelling in any particular area – it doesn’t have the personality or sass of the ‘Splosion Man titles, nor the exacting challenge of Super Meat Boy or N+ that demand you expand upon your learned skillset.
The multiplayer is easily the standout element here and makes this easy to recommend if you have friends who’ll get stuck into it alongside you. It’s just a shame that while good, the single player never reaches those same heights.
Version Tested: XBLA