Review: Cloudberry Kingdom

CloudberryKingdom_1

Imagine a game that starts off with a papercraft version of a Rankin/Bass animated show (like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or Frosty The Snowman) and then transitions into gameplay that is a mix of traditional 2D platforming with a great big heaping dose of visual stimulation more commonly found in bullet hell shmups. This is pretty much what Pwnee Studios has done with Cloudberry Kingdom. At first blush, you are drawn in by the bright animation, then seduced by the simple idea of jumping from one platform to the next, and lastly completely gobsmacked by the visual overload of environmental obstacles.

Cloudberry Kingdom is more than just a glorified platformer though. Split between three distinct modes, players can opt to play through the Story campaign, an Arcade mode, or a Freeplay option. The Story mode sends the hero Bob through very short levels which introduce all of the various obstacles that will be encountered throughout the rest of the game. Spinning spike balls. Spinning columns of fire. Laser beams. Synchronized spikes that retract and extend. Laser beams. Balls of lava. Platforms that crumble when stood on for too long. Platforms that crumble immediately after being stepped on. Ghost platforms that appear and disappear. Laser beams. Giant dragons that jump up from below the screen. Rotating platforms. Oh yeah, did I mention laser beams?

These obstacles don’t just appear once or twice in a level. No. The further you progress in the story, the more complex the pattern of one, two, four, nine or more of these obstacles all work in varying degrees of unison to test your twitch skills and patience. While most levels have a very definite route that can only be passed by the quickest timed jumps, other levels switch things up by forcing that staccato pacing to come to a crashing halt while waiting for a deadly obstacle to move out of the way.

Sounds like a brutal experience? It is to a degree, but it isn’t completely unfair. You might die a lot, but every level can be beaten. The trick is beating every level while collecting gems which are placed along the way to the end. Sometimes, however, those gems can be in what seem like hard to reach places when compared to the easiest path to the end. Collecting the gems provides a point multiplier that increases for every level that is completed while collecting every gem. Every gem collected while running through levels with a high multiplier quickly racks up points, but dying at any point along the way reverts the multiplier back to the lowest at that time.

CloudberryKingdom_2

Gems also allow powers to be purchased during each level. The first power puts the game in a review mode and quickly demonstrates how to get through a particular part of the level. Other powers allow for time to be slowed, so that everything (including Bob) moves at a much less chaotic pace. Of course that doesn’t diminish the fact that there can easily be forty or more obstacles on screen at one time. Another power draws a line through the level, showing the path to get through all obstacles. These powers don’t carry over from one level to the next, though, so collecting gems and spending them on powers adds a risk reward element to the game. You can collect gems without dying to earn bragging rights on the leaderboard, or spend them recklessly to be able to actually get through some of the craziest levels ever devised.

Even though death can happen frequently, what makes Cloudberry Kingdom so much fun is the fact that respawning at the beginning of a level or a checkpoint is immediate and doesn’t slow down the pace of the game. Death is handled differently for each mode as well. Unlimited lives are available through the story mode, but in arcade mode, there are several twists on the game where death may or may not impact progression.

Arcade mode is broken into four variants. Escalation is simply a test of getting through as many levels as possible before all lives are lost. Collecting 20 gems in this mode adds an additional life. Finish enough levels and a different method for clearing the levels unlocks. By this I mean, Bob starts the game just as himself, but gradually learns new ways to traverse the game, such as Bouncy, which puts Bob on a pogo stick, or Spaceship, which transforms the game into a side-scroller with a ship that doesn’t jump or shoot but can only dodge. Other traversal abilities include Bob being strapped to a wheel, Fat Bob, and Double Jump, all of which alter the gameplay dynamic in a different way. Time Crisis is the second Arcade mode which tests player’s skills to complete as many levels in 15 seconds. The catch is that time is added to the clock each time a gem is collected. Then there is Hero Rush, which changes Bob’s movement ability at the beginning of each level. All of these styles are then smashed together in Hybrid Rush, in which Bob can have multiple traversal modes active at once, and they vary each level. Collecting gems also keeps the timer from expiring.

Free play mode allows players to create their own levels by sliding up or down all manner of options for environment and obstacle variants. One of the added challenges to free play is the fact that during co-op, one option is to have all players bungee corded together. If one player dies, then they remain limp, bouncing dead weight for the rest of the group. It can be downright hilarious to watch the remaining living players struggle to complete the level while a dead body bounces around tied to them.

CloudberryKingdom_3

All levels in all modes can be played with up to 4 players cooperatively. While this may seem like it would add even more to the chaos of the game, I often found myself rooting for the other players (my kids) as they could sneak through some deviously deadly obstacles after I misjudged my timing on a jump. Cloudberry Kingdom is plenty of fun for a single player, but is an absolute blast to play in couch co-op with friends.

For all the bombast and craziness that the game dishes out time and again, what truly keeps me coming back for more is the music. While mostly falling into a techno, pop, or dub step pedigree, the music is so upbeat and adds a level of whimsy and fun that makes it easier to remain calm and cheery during moments of incredible frustration. Cloudberry Kingdom is a wonderfully charming game overall, while also being an overloaded stimulant of torturous obstacles and maddening platform fun. Quick, randomly generated levels that regularly change in pace and difficulty give a great sense of progression and accomplishment. Co-op only adds to the fun as all players can share in the commiseration of failure during some of the wildly difficult levels as well as the triumph of overcoming such challenges. Cloudberry Kingdom is an absolute treat to play, simple as that.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Quick levels provide plenty of constant forward progression
+ Wild variations in all levels and modes
+ Couch co-op is chaotic fun
+ Fantastic music selection

Cons:
– Even with powers enabled, some levels can be very frustrating

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3 via PSN, also available on Steam, XBLA, Wii U eShop and coming soon to Vita
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Pwnee Studios
Release Date: 7/30/2013
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-4 (local multiplayer)
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

Tim has been playing video games for more than 20 years. He manages to find time to game in between raising three kids and working as a network administrator. Follow Tim on Twitter @freemantim.