Cloudberry Kingdom is a procedurally generated side scrolling platformer. Everything that comes to mind with those last five words are absolutely in this game, but it adds something else that really makes it engaging. It isn’t the story, which is a bit of silly ‘Mario gets annoyed’ type stuff, it isn’t the cutscenes, which are brief but funny, it isn’t the artstyle, which is bright and fun, but it’s something that you can’t really put a finger on. It’s that ‘just one more life’ factor that catapulted games like ‘Super Meat Boy’ to indie superstardom.
As I said in my Super Luigi U review, I’m a 2D platformer. I play them all, and to me feel is everything. Cloudberry Kingdom initially felt all wrong. It happens sometimes, your muscle memory just isn’t used to the physics of the game. This one was worse somehow, it took quite awhile to adjust and I kept dying in situations that I didn’t feel I should. But again, it clicked. It took time, but eventually I was hitting those jumps on the very edge of a block, pixels away from the instant death of a spike that was about to pop up. Thankfully the collision detection on things like those spikes is generous, which reminded me of my favourite series, MegaMan, that allowed you to have only a few pixels of your foot on a ledge to remain safe.
Mega Man being my favourite series will indicate that I really enjoy crafted levels, maps that have been planned out to the pixel and that I still remember a couple decades on. I do, and up to this point I didn’t enjoy procedurally generated content. That may sound like a ridiculous statement to make, but I can’t think of a single game that was generated like that, that I truly enjoyed. Games like ‘Fuel’, ‘Minecraft’ and ‘Darwinia’ felt empty and without personality. I know many who disagree, but that’s my own feeling on it. That same feeling of emptiness is here, I know these levels are made by an AI, instead of a person. Yes that person made that AI, but it’s not quite the same.
This shows by your approach to beating a level. When I took my strategy of unknown games, which is to move slowly through a stage, timing the lasers, flame wheels, disappearing, falling, moving, scrolling or bouncing platforms, buzzsaws, frozen flies and every other crazy element, and plan my route, I died. Repeatedly. When I paused for a second on level opening, then mashed right on the d-pad, I pulled off what seemed like amazing feats of platforming. On some of the levels I was missing lasers by a split second and jumping into nothingness only to make a slight adjustment and hit the exact right spot to continue on my way. This is really the way you need to approach the game if you want to make it. Yes sometimes you have to pause and consider, but I’d say 95% of the game is played holding down the right d-pad and jumping like a mad fool. You might consider this a disappointment, and I can absolutely understand that.
However…. I LOVED it. That is to say I continue to love it. I played the last several Mario games on autopilot, holding down the run button and just switching off my brain as the levels flowed by. It was enjoyable, but not all that engaging. What I’m able to do here is much the same, I keep the pace and flow that I love, but I’m much more involved in the process. I’m not sure exactly why, but I have a feeling it has something to do with the incredibly short stages and continued (In story mode) changes in control scheme. You start off as a regular guy with a regular jump, but you become double-jump guy, tiny guy, jet pack guy, spaceship ‘guy’ and many others besides. (By the way, playing a platformer as a spaceship is nuts but absolutely genius) The backdrop also continually changes, using the ‘ice world’, ‘fire world’ and other types of platformer cliches, as well as some other ones like ‘purple world’.
Now, there is co-op, an Arcade mode with a limited number of lives, and a mode where you can play with sliders and make any kind of level you like. There is a wealth of content here for the price, and it really is great content, but how much value you’ll get out of it is really going to depend on what you think of this style of game. Every single level: story, arcade, co-op, builder, etc, is all generated by an AI. To me this meant I cranked up the soundtrack, which was excellent but criminally short for long play sessions, sat back and just blasted through level after level after level after level. It felt like a platformer to soothe my, for lack of a better term, ADD tendencies. After a long day of doing something else, to pop my feet up, shut off every part of my brain that isn’t involved in platforming and just play, felt right. I ended up leaving my Wii U on overnight in the middle of an arcade run, wanting to really go for a high ‘score’, which is really just getting to a harder level.
I could continue on, but by now you’ve got the idea. You know if this is something you’re interested in or not. I can understand the criticisms of the game, I can see the flaws in the game, but I just don’t care. I don’t want to be writing this, I would rather be downstairs, subwoofer cranked, playing jetpack arcade mode. So that’s what I’m going to go do.