What do you think of when you hear the name Cloudberry Kingdom? Whimsical Victorian-era JRPG? Cutesy browser-based tower defense game? Well surprise! It’s actually an old-school 2D side-scrolling platformer that runs you through a merciless gauntlet of procedurally generated levels. Not only can its various blocks and hazards be arranged in potentially infinite combinations, the difficulty can be ramped up all the way to “Masochistic.” It’s a brave approach, if nothing else. When our only means of avoiding doom consists of running and jumping, the entire experience lives and dies by the level design.
The good news is, CBK’s built-in level generator works extremely well, at least in a broad sense. Levels were never broken or unbeatable, and in fact, I routinely encountered sections that felt so deliberately assembled I actually doubted a randomized algorithm could design something so perfectly cruel. When you reach the end of an extremely challenging level only to discover a last-second laser from space means you’ll have to rethink your entire run in order to get the timing right, it’s hard not to take it personally, you know? Still, aside from the occasional level that far exceeded the difficulty of the previous and subsequent levels, the challenge always increased at a steady, satisfying pace. And damn can it be satisfying!
The only problem is that the experience becomes predictable even as it grows more challenging. Nailing the exact timing of a complex series of jumps and dodges requires expert hand-eye coordination, sure, but my approach never changed when facing a new level: wait half a second at the start, then hold forward and do not stop. I could basically ignore every falling block and swinging saw blade and still make it from point A to point B unscathed as long as I kept moving and had faith there’d be something for me to land on. Occasionally I’d have to throw in a strategic pause, but it never took long to figure out where it needed to be (pro tip: usually after the third jump).
As a test of dexterity, Cloudberry Kingdom is a worthy, well-executed tribute to traditional platformers. But because the levels consistently use such a clear pattern, the gameplay gradually grows repetitive. However – and this is important – this somehow never really deterred me from playing. I attribute this phenomenon to two factors. First, the levels are so brief they achieve near-Wario Ware levels of ADD addictiveness. This is further facilitated by the fact that the main campaign takes the Super Meat Boy approach and grants players infinite lives and instant restarts. It’s the epitome of “Just one more!” gaming – blissfully rewarding when it’s not totally infuriating.
Mario’s a pansy.
And the second factor: CBK offsets the unchanging design with variety in other places. For example, the story mode cycles you through various types of playable characters, providing a sense of discovery that the level design does not. There’s a double-jump hero, a hero in a box who can only move by jumping, a hero on a pogo stick who can’t stop jumping, a hero who inverts gravity instead of jumping, and even a “time master” hero whose movements control the motion of environmental objects (it’s very Braid). While you still basically sprint to the right without thinking too hard, the journey’s just different enough to remain interesting.
Then there’s Arcade mode, which contains four game types that supplement the vanilla gameplay with various combo counters, timers, and other tasks that alter the underlying experience in fun, meaningful ways. On top of that is Free Play mode, which allows you to tinker with every imaginable setting to spit out a custom level which you can then save and force your friends to play. The lack of online sharing in the PS3 and Wii U versions is a severe disappointment, but this mode alone can provide hours of entertainment. Oh, and there’s local co-op. It doesn’t change anything, but New Super Mario Bros. did it so hey, why not?
Epic beards and silly hats: check.
Ultimately Cloudberry Kingdom compensates for the predictability of its level design. Unfortunately, not much can save its presentation. While the graphics and music are by no means abysmal, it lacks a clear identity, almost as if the art direction came as a total afterthought. Backdrops and foreground objects look like they’re from completely different games (at least one of which is a poor man’s Scribblenauts), and the soundtrack simply cycles through the same handful of tolerable but generic tracks, never once employing music to create tension or atmosphere. The biggest issue, though, is the lack of a unique, compelling personality. Where’s GLaDOS when you need her?As a love letter to platformers past and an open invitation to most hardened gamers out there, Cloudberry Kingdom succeeds admirably. Creative features inspired by classic influences help foster a hyper-addictive experience and thwart potential repetitiveness. While its technically impressive level generator ultimately doesn’t add a great deal, the intense, straight-ahead gameplay demands to be played and replayed for hours on end. It’s a shame the developers couldn’t find a unique and distinctive voice for Cloudberry.
Was this article informative?