“Foiled again,” you think to yourself, and almost immediately do the words resurface. With the chaos being ever-present and the regal quality remaining entirely unseen, Cloudberry Kingdom is a nightmare you’ll struggle to relieve yourself from.
The instinctive reaction to an unsupportive environment is to cower and pull away. And understanding all that Cloudberry Kingdom represents as a skill-responsive endurance test where misery outweighs any positive morsels you might reap, these are conditions that prompt similar scorn. Yet, underneath lies a provoked curiosity to see just how wild its measures become – not in the sense of being dared, but more to verify if its warnings of frightening scenery are just unsupported noise.
Perhaps this is just me trying to rationalize ambivalence, but even then, we’d be acknowledging that somewhere under that rigorous exterior is a satisfying core.
Cloudberry Kingdom is a game where, with no room for exception, the agile become fearful and the unafraid become terrified. You enter its easygoing front, thinking the person you’ve become – a veteran who’s been through the most vile of platforming trenches – will win out against the scores of laser beams and pointy objects. But preparedness helps little when the premise of procedural level generation fosters both a loathsome and a deceptive grind – deceptive in the sense that in spite of the unpredictability and the ongoing torment over mutilation, you feel your instincts can break through such overwhelming barriers.
And that, they do.
Still standing – just not in one place
Immediate threats fade when you’re feeling especially off-balance, not through sudden inspiration, but because you grow into the mentality that the end is within reach and that predicaments are only as troublesome as you make and have made them. In this way, self-coaching proves to be your strongest coping mechanism to allay the ludicrousness of it all.
Let’s be clear: your mind is never truly at ease. Yet the cockiness stemming from early victories stays with you as more precarious exercises spawn…only to be shot down like a meteor before hitting your peak, leaving you entirely functioning on intuition as the essence of your survival.
Though the setting is in a constant state of flux, Cloudberry Kingdom likes to toy with the need for decisive action over timed movements in sporadic measures. Unconsciously, you’re told to jolt forward – with your eyes half-closed, so as not to soak in the abnormality of the situation – recognizing that openings are easily missed through hesitation. Gradually, your eyes widen with every ten-set feat conquered.
Timing then becomes natural. Gaps become less surprising. Erratic behaviours are better accounted for. And dents in the armour (e.g. saw blades attached to pressure-sensitive blocks) are more actively searched for, though seldom found.
Stacking multiple successes against the tension of such harebrained encounters supplies enough adrenaline to keep you moving, with the only substantial flow deviations being when obstacles are surmountable only with excess concentration and unregulated timing, or when dealing with dodgy cloud platforms, which often stint progress and upset your groove.
What is more, you become less cautious as safeguards are equipped. Give me a jetpack, and I’m set. But if you want to experience my version of torture, strap yourself to a metal wheel or get shoved into a cardboard box. Diversionary options similarly constrain and alter the design meaningfully, albeit they are not without nuances that detract – one example being that the spaceship’s immediate scene re-entry causes constant problems not effectively catered to in the level generation.
True to its dungeon-like nature, the world of Cloudberry Kingdom doesn’t scream royalty. Spectacles are lacking, with the grand attractions being when a myriad of hazards are brought together. Checkpoint jumping and respawns are wonderful aids, for then can timing windows be perceived more readily amidst commotion. Still, in eschewing balance for intensity, some scenes are cluttered to the point of nausea. Others appear more stagnant or will replicate key elements, such as vertical elevator platforms, minimizing differentiation between scenes – an understandable side-effect, though not one I excuse.
Also a reflection of the game’s unceremonious nature, accomplishments are incredibly short-lived, quickly swept under the carpet as the sands shift. To be rarely showered with praises is a downer, but the lack of online leaderboards is a more criminal offence when competition ordinarily does wonders.
The role of the soundtrack, however, is more successful. For one, it doesn’t add to the state of disarray. The right concentration of house, modern and futuristic keeps the pace energetic and contributes to the blinder effect referenced earlier, as if zooming through a tunnel above ground at high velocity, not stopping for oncoming traffic. Moments when songs are being swapped spoil the mood, though, forcing a slight awakening before being re-immersed into your stream of concentration.
After playing Cloudberry Kingdom, it’s hard to look at more dainty platformers the same way. It’s a ferocious tug and pull – the greatest support when you’re down, but the worst affliction when you’re on a rise. Torturous though it may be, its pull fades only on select occasions, otherwise strengthening players to test the fibre of their platforming skills – especially as there’s little to substantiate feelings of unfair treatment.
Had Cloudberry Kingdom been greatly fastidious, the foundation would quickly crumble with the combined forces of unpredictability, an aversion to lenience, and an implicit need for consistency waging war. As it is, though neither triumphant in execution nor triumph-conscious, Cloudberry Kingdom remains an unrestrained, manic menace that will slyly challenge, not decimate, your spirit.
Cloudberry Kingdom, by Ubisoft and Pwnee Studios, is out now for PC, Wii U (reviewed), PS3, and Xbox 360.