Release Date: August 2, 2013
Platform: PC (reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U
Developer: Pwnee Studios
Genre: Sidescrolling Platformer
In a lot of ways, Cloudberry Kingdom could be looked at as the definitive “endless runner” of the sidescrolling platforming genre: in that you’ll always be running, jumping, and avoiding dangerous obstacles, but never quite finding that feeling of fulfillment as you would in more close-knit or tightly packed experiences. But even though the colorful, tough-as-nails platformer could learn from the age-old mindset of “quality over quantity,” there are still plenty of fun surprises and enjoyable challenges to be had in this somewhat oversaturated look at one of gaming’s most important genres to date.
Cloudberry Kingdom is a fundamental platform game in every sense of the word. The PC controls are as simple as using the keyboard arrows to move left and right, the up arrow to jump, and the down arrow to crouch. That’s it: nothing more, nothing less. The sheer variety of the game comes in how many obstacles you’ll have to avoid, and the many platforming tropes you’ll be forced to adapt to. You’ll be dodging everything from laser beams, giant spiked balls, and whirling towers of fire, and jumping on everything from floating beetles, to disappearing ghost blocks, and even those little escalating platforms that you might recall from level 1-2 in the original Super Mario Bros. The background scenery is just as diverse, with misty seascapes, slating town rooftops, and fiery cave infernos all a part of a typical travel route when it comes to platforming for a cause.
Everything in the game is vibrantly brought to life through simple and cartoony visuals that would be right at home in any internet Flash game. There’s also a pretty wonderful surprise that happens when you boot up Story Mode for the first time: the incredibly short but sweet introductory cinematic that throws us into the wacky world of our hero, Bob, as he goes through a less-than-ideal encounter with the princess he is trying to save. The whole thing is done in that same beautiful, 3D papery style of graphics that we saw in the game’s debut launch trailer and early Kickstarter videos, and it just never manages to get old no matter how many times I see it. But despite the usually shining graphics, one slight thing I do need to mention is that, although the cartoony graphics as a whole are largely sharp and pleasing to look at, there is still the occasional texture or two that looks hopelessly out of focus and blurry. Most of these instances occur when you’re customizing the look of Bob, as many of the hats and accessories he can wear look like they’ve been drawn in Microsoft Paint on a computer that’s still running Windows 97.
Now what’s great about Cloudberry Kingdom’s story mode is that each chunk of levels is built around an ever-changing gameplay mechanic which tweaks the way you’ll need to platform in fresh and exciting new ways. For instance, the first batch of levels simply has you jumping from platform to platform like any old sidescroller would. Before long, a double-jump is added, followed by a full-on jetpack that lets Bob hover all over the place. Then Bob gets two giant wings which let him soar to even greater heights, changing up the fundamental jump mechanic entirely. But then things escalate to even more unexpected and welcoming extremes at the start of Chapter Two, when Bob is placed on a giant stone wheel and players are forced to roll and platform on MUCH different parameters now. Riveting change-ups like these always keep the sprawling campaign interesting, although like much else in Cloudberry Kingdom, could probably still benefit from being shortened just a bit. As they say, everything in moderation, except for Cloudberry Kingdom.
Arcade Mode functions a little bit differently, and is probably the bigger source of replayability of the two. The big change here is that now you have limited lives, which you can gain more of by collecting gems and boosting a point multiplier which continuously increases until you die. Arcade Mode throws literally hundreds of back-to-back platforming levels at you, from all sorts of environment packs seen in the Story Mode, and out-of-order obstacles that you may have not even encountered yet. Reaching different level milestones will unlock new starting points the next time you come back for more, and you can even unlock additional characters like “Jetpack Bob” or the Bob on that big stone wheel from Chapter Two to REALLY up the ante.
But to say that Cloudberry Kingdom becomes a bit mindless after a while would almost be an understatement. Each platforming level is so short and sweet that most can be completed in well under 10 seconds: resulting in a continuous onslaught of platforming stages that can honestly become a bit numbing to the senses before long. It was cool at first, just sitting there with my eyes glued to the screen and completing platforming level after platforming level, but once my eyes started glossing over and losing focus, I quickly realized that even too much of such a good thing like sidescrolling platformers can get a bit stale when presented in excess. Also, the incredibly mundane and obnoxious techno soundtrack feels completely out of place, and certainly doesn’t help matters either.
This monotony is only heightened by the extreme lack of penalties for messing up (you have infinite lives in story mode, in addition to mid-level checkpoints), and even the advertised randomized nature of levels isn’t enough to break up the constant feeling of sameness that permeates the entire game. Yes, every level in the game will always be just a LITTLE bit different than anything you’ve seen before it, but when they’re all built on the same gameplay and platforming fundamentals, then don’t need to be exactly the same to make you feel like you’ve already played them a dozen times before. Collecting every gem in each level offers a nice added incentive to nail some of the trickier jumps, but there’s really no reward to doing this besides the occasional achievement or two. And besides, most gems are so easy to get that you’ll probably get dozens of “Perfects” without really even trying.
So for all of these reasons, Cloudberry Kingdom becomes somewhat of a difficult beast to pin down. My favorite genre of video games has always been the sidescrolling platforming, but even I started to get a little bit exhausted after a few hours of nothing but never-ending platform stages with virtually no end in sight. Of course, that’s certainly not to say that what Cloudberry Kingdom sets out to do, it doesn’t do extremely well: it’s just that I’m not sure how long most gamers will be able to stomach jumping to that next out-of-reach platform into infinity. Luckily, there is just enough variety and change-ups to the core sidescrolling gameplay to make the colorful platforming romp highly entertaining for the first few hours that you spend playing it. For all the hours after that, you might very well take a page from Bob’s book and say “To hell with it,” before hopping on your way to find something of more substance to play.
Story – 9/10
Gameplay – 9/10
Graphics – 7/10
Soundtrack – 2/10
Replayability – 6/10