‘Cloudberry Kingdom’ Preview – Try To Keep Up
Don’t be frightened! It’s not as bad as it looks – though I can’t promise that. Seriously though, you’ve probably seen some gameplay or a screenshot of Cloudberry Kingdom and either had to loosen your pants or shook your head with disapproval. Here’s some clarification regarding what this game is really about though: fun!
Now, you’ve probably read that and immediately decided that it could only be fun for gaming masochists, simply because of the screen-filling hazards that make this platformer stand out. This is a large part of the game, certainly, but it is by no means the only way to play and enjoy the game. Customization permeates through Cloudberry Kingdom; from making a character to adjusting its difficulty for you and even allowing players to set the parameters of a level in great detail. Many people have referred to it as a “bullet hell platformer”, in that you must learn the patterns of the dangers to find a safe path, and this could certainly take hours of practice. Again, this is there if you want to give it a go, if you don’t want that kind of experience then you can enjoy the many other ways to play the game.
The preview build I have been spending quite a while with lacks a few features: improved graphics and animations, the campaign mode, keyboard support, the extra obstacles and items and quite a few other additions that I anticipate will make the final version appealing to many more people. What I was able to really get a feel for was the game’s engine, which is really what gives the game its utter uniqueness. I imagine that some people will observe Cloudberry Kingdom and wonder why it’s taken the developers three years to get it to this state; upon playing the reason becomes very obvious. There is a lot of clever programming behind it.
This is a procedurally generated platfomer. That means that every level is articulated to be unique, at least in terms of how it’s laid out and what objects and dangers exist within it. What I was expecting at first was a fairly linear platformer which just got very bloody hard as it went on. Not the case. At least, not in the alpha version which I was playing. You see, the Campaign mode is being worked on so what I was left with was the Arcade and Free Play modes, which I usually associate with tacked on extras and was a little apprehensive, I guess. I need something to work towards that isn’t just a high score, or so I thought.
So okay, I went straight on in and tried out the various Arcade modes as that’s what I am supposed to do in order to give you my full impressions. Needless to say, I was actually a little intimidated by the screen which pops up before you actually enter the gameplay – level select, which includes 1, 50, 100 and 150. Brilliant, I’m adequate at platformers, in fact I’m pretty good but bugger if I was trying out anything above the first level to start off with.
It was dandy at first. My character was simply hopping along and it was very easy to avoid the hazards, perhaps too easy but it was almost meditative in a way. Especially with the ambient varied sountrack which can be flicked through with the shoulder buttons – ambient drum and bass, rocky anthems and vibrant electro describe the choices. I didn’t have to get used to the controls, merely because you only had to move and jump, as well as press X when reaching the Exit door on each level. The only advanced element of the controls is the jump button which can be held down for a higher and longer jump or just tapped for a little hop. This works very well in giving you an extra bit of control – not Super Meat Boy kind of control but more than most platformers. It’s a good job too because later on, when there’s swinging spiky balls, spinning fire sticks and laser beams to dodge, having that nuanced jump ability makes the difference between life and death.
Most surprising to me at this point was the brevity of the levels, some of them not far off being a single, static screen. But it’s the quantity and smooth increase in difficulty that gives at least the Arcade modes their challenge, which is why those ridiculous levels are able to exist. This gives the game a lot of speed and certainly a momentum too. Things do start off slow but your reactions and foresight has to become much keener after just a couple of minutes of gameplay because many levels can take literally 5 seconds to pass so things can get hard fairly quickly. Time Crisis is one of the modes and that only gives you 15 seconds on the clock with which to get through as many levels as possible and get the highest score – this time can be sustained for longer by collecting gems. This mode requires keen reactions and foresight from the player in order to build up a decent score. Due to the procedural generation, players cannot possibly memorize the levels either; it’s entirely based on player skill and reactions.
This was only one game mode though. Another is Escalation which has you worrying about lives rather than speed, so naturally I enjoyed this one a little more and progressed quite a bit further. It soon becomes apparent that the best way to get through the harder levels in Cloudberry Kingdom is to just keep moving. Seriously. If you hesitate for just a moment then you’ll come out of sync with the pattern necessary to get through them. This is where I find myself most impressed though. When you stop to consider that the game is putting these levels together as you go, really fast, and there’s always a way through (there is), you realize how much of a programming feat this is. If you need a little help to find that path then you can press Y and ask for an AI ghost to show you how it’s done. There are other ways of finding assistance too – slow motion and a safe path display – but these will cost you some of the gems you collect during the course of the game. If you’re wondering what else the gems are used for, the answer is gaining extra lives and they’re also used as currency to buy hats, faces and capes for your character.
By far my favorite game mode is the Hero Rush, which also has an even better follow up in Hero Rush 2. These are essentially the same as the other modes but your ‘hero’ will have a number of variations placed upon them with every level. One level you might be tiny and can double jump, the next you might be expanding and retracting in size while hopping inside a box with a jetpack attached, then you might be constantly bouncing and really fat. This is proper party game time and is going to be a hell of a laugh in local multiplayer with a few mates around. It’s just so hilarious. Speaking of which, up to four players can enter the fray and they open up even more modes, such as co-op bungee, wheelie and rocketbox; all of which I haven’t tried but can see will be great fun to attempt.
Little did I realize that I had only scratched the surface of this very early version of the game. The Free Play mode lives up to its name by allowing players to adjust a huge amount of parameters in order to tailor a level to what they want; tuning the algorithm to give the proper phrase. How many of each obstacle, what kind of level, how long it will go on for…you get the idea. You can even customize the hero, not just visually, but I mean how they move and fall.
It is due to the ability to customize so many things in Cloudberry Kingdom, and yet it still provides a cohesive experience, which tempts me to say it’s one of the best platformers ever made. I don’t think it’s quite there yet, but there’s never been anything quite like this in the genre and by the time it’s finished I think it’s going to be very special. Accessibility is probably most people’s biggest fear, and though it boasts being very hard, it’s actually the most easy platformer to get into because it will adjust to you and will allow you to alter it how you see fit. From hardcore platformer to hilarious party game, the game’s got you covered.