Let’s get something out of the way before you read this review: Unless you are a diehard platforming fan who likes their games timed to the half millisecond; this game isn’t for you. It’s not that the game is always hard, it’s that the game’s natural evolution is to turn incredibly difficult. Cloudberry Kingdom is for fans seeking constant challenge and who love replaying short levels roughly every 5 seconds until the correct combination of timing, skill, and a safe path through obstacles to beat said level is found.
As a platformer, each level has obstacles for hero Bob to jump over or run through; such as spinning blades, fire chains, jumping dragons, disappearing blocks, goddamn laser fire from the sky, and more. There are coins to collect for points and spending in each level, and in certain modes Bob gains an extra life every 25 coins; though Story mode offers unlimited lives. Bob also has different “power-ups” some levels will assign to him, such as a double-jump, jet pack, a smaller size with an enhanced jump and others. However, some of the “power-ups” are lacking and are more in line with being handed a handicap; such as being strapped to a wheel or ‘Phase Bob,’ where Bob shrinks and grows in between his smallest and largest sizes. Since size affects how far you can jump and Bob’s hit box, this “power-up” is exceedingly frustrating. Thankfully, players can use coins to buy one of three cheats—the ability to watch the computer run through the level, the best path through the level, or the option to slow down the level.
Timing, reaction, insight, and rote memorization are the skills needed to complete Cloudberry Kingdom. Jumping to the next platform or running through 38 simultaneous sawblades and not dying often requires timing down to less than a half-second. Players are not offered a full view of each level at the beginning, and each level functions as one object. Reaction becomes chief once the player approached a part of the level they haven’t been able to view yet. Insight is need to find the correct path through the madness levels approach, and rote memorization for when insight fails and players have to replay the level the next 20-50 times.
The graphics in Cloudberry Kingdom are flat, yet well-animated. Story mode has some cutscenes and an excuse plot, but the papier mache-style models lend to game’s tongue-in-cheek presentation: This is a 2D world across the board. All of the characters are 2D, the plot is 2D, and game is a 2D platformer. In this light, the graphics suit the game wonderfully. More importantly, the graphics do not distract from the insane concentration needed on most of the levels.
One of the standout points for each of the levels is how each level is treated like a living being out to kill you. The level is moving offscreen even if you cannot see it. Events don’t happen when the player stumbles into them – the level is fluid and functions as one. The pendulums don’t swing when the player arrives; they were already swinging when the level began. This is fantastic and adds to the platforming nature of the game, and helps offset some of the memorization. Yes, the player knows there is a disappearing block there, but was the timing right to approach it?
Cloudberry Kingdom somewhat suffers musically. There are a handful of tracks in the game which manage to range from “Rock Awesome!” to “I’m pretty sure I heard that during an uplifting powerpoint presentation.” The ability to enjoy the tracks doesn’t seem to be the main purpose, as the music offers a repetitive sound meant to reinforce the timing necessary for the game. While the music would grow annoying due to the small track number, I cannot deny what the music did for the game.
Story mode, different Challenge modes, and a Free mode are available to play. Story mode is 240 levels with an additional 40 unlocked after the game is beaten. The Challenge modes offer players a chance to play through as many levels as time allows, or just see how far a player can go. Among the different modes in the game, Free mode offers complete customization of how both stages and Bob function in the game. The customization is very in-depth and kind of amazing. The reason behind this customization lies in how the game’s levels are made. See, Cloudberry Kingdom’s levels are generated by code. There’s a sorting algorithm which determines levels, and each level has a path based on timing in order to be completed. There is a way through any level no matter how it is generated. The replay value is technically infinite. And the system is perfect.
I mean that. The system is perfect. As easy as it was to curse the game when I died during a level, it was ultimately my fault. It was my lack of skill, my lack of timing, my inability to focus, or my general lacking which caused the thousands of restarts. As a player, you feel terrible for not getting through the level. But once through, a normal player will feel fulfilled and eagerly jump into the next level to see what it offers and whether or not in can be conquered. It is this system of self-loathing followed by great accomplishment which drives Cloudberry Kingdom. The game provokes a distinct emotional reaction in the player.
I’m not a normal player, though. I loathed Cloudberry Kingdom 20 levels in and never stopped. I am one of the people who, when greeted with the opening paragraph, would have stopped reading. However, all of the loathing I feel cannot blind me to what is an excellent game which works not only with itself, but perfectly with its intended audience. Cloudberry Kingdom only loses points due to a lackluster music selection, some shakiness issues with its cutscenes, and the reason a game with the ability to connect with both itself and player so well is ultimately going to be limited to so few people.