By Josh Speer / August 9th, 2013
|Release Dates||July 30th, 2013 (PS3)
July 31st, 2013 (Windows, Xbox 360)
August 1st, 2013 (Wii U)
Fall 2013 (PS Vita, Mac OS, Linux)
|Platforms||PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360, Wii U, PlayStation Vita, Mac OS, Linux|
|Age Ratings||T (ESRB), 7 (PEGI), G (ACB)|
|Official Website||Pwnee Studios|
I can still vividly remember when I first heard about Cloudberry Kingdom, an ambitious Kickstarter game that hearkened back to the 2D platformers of yore, only with a complex level creator and artificial intelligence. For a while there, it wasn’t clear if this great-sounding title would be made, but wonder of wonders, the Kickstarter campaign got funded, and Cloudberry Kingdom came to pretty much every system out there. Now, you might be wondering exactly what type of berry one finds in Cloudberry Kingdom. Though it’s hard to put into words, I’m going to reference a classic Simpsons line by Ralph Wiggum to help clarify: “It tastes like burning!”
Put simply, Cloudberry Kingdom is a classic platformer. It’s tough as nails, cruel, and downright maddening at times. But it is also a very well-made and balanced game despite all that. The basic story revolves around a down-and-out hero named Bob trying to rescue the princess from an evil king. Sound familiar? The game definitely borrows some themes and mechanics from some classic series, but it has its own style and feel.
I finally decided that the game reminds me most of a love child of the Mario and Rayman series. Unlike both series, which gradually draw you in and explain each new game mechanic as it is introduced, Cloudberry Kingdom has no training wheels. You run and jump primarily, but as you progress, the game introduces new gimmicks. For example, you might start a level and find Bob suddenly has wings, allowing him to double-jump. Or another level might find Bob on a pogo stick that is constantly bouncing or strapped to a wheel.
The unique thing about these gimmicks is that unlike classic platformers, which introduce only helpful gimmicks, in Cloudberry Kingdom, each gimmick is just as dangerous as it is helpful. For example, that double jump may help you jump farther, but it also makes you more likely to unwittingly jump into a spinning saw as you’re trying to cross a chasm. Furthermore, each gimmick sports its own unique set of physics that take some getting used to and must be learned completely on the fly. The game does not tell you how to do a damned thing, quite frankly. But that is also part of its charm.
Though there are three modes to play through, the one you’ll probably want to start with is Story Mode. In Story Mode, you progress through large groups of thematically organized stages in your quest to save the princess. A few notable plot twists are thrown at you in a handful of cutscenes featuring the voice of actor Kevin Sorbo, but overall, the focus of this mode is the gameplay. It is my understanding that the game features local multiplayer for Story mode for up to 4 people, but sadly I was unable to test this feature myself. What starts very basic quickly escalates into pure gameplay hell. Honestly, if you’re not a fan of retro games or platformers, you might want to stick to Arcade or Freeplay Mode. If you do decide to stick around, however, you’ll find that Story mode is a lot of fun and offers a pretty big challenge as you attempt to beat all 241 levels.
The game will introduce many obstacles for you to overcome, such as swinging maces, spikes, disappearing platforms, and lasers (yes, frickin’ laser beams, just like Dr. Evil always wanted). You’ll grow to love the checkpoints in stages, since they let you continue from somewhere in the middle. Unfortunately, later stages cruelly do away with checkpoints, making those last worlds a real challenge. As you play through the stages, you’ll find that each level has its own rhythm that you’ll need to learn to survive.
Odd as it may sound, oftentimes, the rhythm will be hinted at by the placement of collectible gems. Generally, by following the path shown by the gems, and by not dillydallying while doing so, you’ll find yourself safely at the exit. This becomes much more complicated than it sounds, of course, but the same theory holds true even in the insane later levels.
Collecting all the gems in a level will grant you a perfect score and act as currency to unlock guides to help you through levels. There are three guides at your disposal if you get stuck (and you will). The first, and cheapest, is to pay 30 gems to watch the computer get through the level. By process of monkey see, monkey do, you can easily benefit. By shelling out 120 gems, you can slow the level down to a much more manageable speed. Platforms, obstacles, and Bob all move slower, but it allows for much great precision, especially when evading traps from every direction. The last option, which I never used, is to pay 240 gems to have the game create a path for you through the stage. But even without a guide, each and every stage is beatable without help.
Besides Story Mode, there is also Arcade Mode. This mode is split into four different challenges you can unlock. You start out with Escalation mode, which continuously offers more and more difficult stages for you to defeat. Unlike Story Mode, you have a set number of lives. Plus, you must play through each level with the a specific gimmick you choose. Furthermore, you can unlock new characters and customization options by doing well. The second mode is Time Crisis, where you only start with 15 seconds on the clock and can only add more time by collecting gems. Just so this isn’t completely unfair, the levels in this mode are significantly shorter than those in Story or Escalation mode.
The third mode is Hero Rush, a devious combination of the previous modes. And the final mode is Hybrid Rush, which combines gimmicks, then has you beat a set of increasingly difficult levels. I especially liked the combination of Wheelie, Jet Pack, and Fat Bob, as it made for divine chaos. Finally, there is Freeplay Mode, which lets you set parameters to generate your own levels. These can also be shared with friends for nearly limitless replay value.
Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. Though the graphics are far from ugly, they are very basic. I especially found the cutscenes in Story mode to be clunky and unattractive. They are very reminiscent of early 90’s cartoon CGI. For the game itself, the graphics do their job, which is to entertain you as you get from point A to point B. Each obstacle looks different, and the game makes use of a few color swaps to keep things interesting.
The one high point of the graphics—for me, anyway—was in the Hero customization feature. You can play as plain old Bob by default, or you can alter his design and make your very own custom avatar. I personally made Bob a dapper-looking gentleman wearing a top hat, monocle, and cape and bearing a very regal mustache. Though you start with a limited number of customization options, you unlock many new ones as you play through Arcade mode.
Music is where this game truly shines. There are a handful of techno tunes that alternate as you play through levels, and they all sound different. Some are upbeat and rowdy, while others are somber and haunting. You’ll generally know a level is kicking your ass when the song changes more than once, since it seems to change every couple of minutes or so and most levels can be beaten in about 30 seconds to a minute. My only real complaint musically is that some of the sound effects for movement are muted, but this didn’t affect my gameplay negatively.
Overall, I was very happy to be given the opportunity to play and review Cloudberry Kingdom. It is the type of game that makes me glad that Kickstarter exists to give unique indie games a shot. While definitely not for everyone because of the hardcore difficulty level, I would heartily recommend the game to any who love platformers or retro games. Even though I was able to beat Story mode in a little under 6 hours, don’t assume this means the game is easy. I’m an old hand at platformers and was thus able to get through 40 to 50 level chunks in about an hour of playtime. Regardless, the game still provides a level of challenge that is often sadly missing from many platformers these days, as well as near infinite variety.
Though the plot is nothing special, and the graphics are pretty basic, I would say Cloudberry Kingdom is easily worth the price of admission. It will be one of the downloadable games I keep in my library and return to whenever I get that itch to play a sadistic platformer. If you feel the same, then don’t hesitate to download it for whatever system you have. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you…
Review copy provided by publisher. Review based on Wii U version.
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