On the Radar: Cloudberry Kingdom

by on July 19, 2013

What’s the skinny? Cloudberry Kingdom is a nightmare-inducing potential rage-fest masquerading as a cutesy, colourful platformer. If that doesn’t sell it to you, nothing will, but just in case you need any further persuasion it also features procedurally-generated levels that become tougher the longer you play. Developed by indie studio Pwnee and published by Ubisoft, Cloudberry Kingdom is heading to pretty much everything at some point this year, starting with XBLA, PSN and Steam on July 30th.

Just the facts, please: A rough build of Pwnee’s game came 10th in Microsoft’s Dream.Build.Play competition in 2009, before a lack of funding led to creators Jordan Fisher and TJ Lutz shelving their lifelong dream while they went off to do boring real-world stuff like studying and earning money.

Thanks to Kickstarter, the dream was reignited when Cloudberry Kingdom reached its target in May 2012, allowing Pwnee to take the art style (which up until then consisted of stickmen and undefined shapes) back to the drawing board – literally – and redesign the look. The core gameplay, however, never needed tweaking.

Based on the concept of a game you can play and play and play, and designed purposefully to test gamers, Cloudberry Kingdom may well look cute and sweet in a New Zealand Story kind of way, but it’s intentionally, unapologetically, difficult. Not only are the levels procedurally generated, but the game itself also gets harder as you play. The better you’re doing and the longer you’re surviving, the more Cloudberry wants to obliterate your grinning face.

This is not done through violence or gratuity, but simply by dint of the incredibly well-considered gameplay. The simple concept of jumping over and ducking under obstacles while collecting diamonds is made nail-bitingly hard by Cloudberry Kingdom’s tendency to throw obstacles at you on a level usually only reserved for bullet hell shooters. You’ll crouch, leap and run through and over disappearing blocks, spike traps, miniature suns, huge spiked balls and laser beams – among other things – as you attempt to negotiate the compact stages alive.

It was enough to get Ubisoft’s attention, with the French outfit stepping in to distribute Cloudberry Kingdom across multiple platforms (360, PS3, Vita, PC, Mac and Wii U). Tellingly, Ubisoft had little to no creative input, leaving the development to Pwnee and handling the marketing and publication only. It might not be a cast-iron indication of quality, but it means that everything that’s gone into Cloudberry came from Fisher and Lutz’s company rather than outside parties.

The game is surprisingly customisable, too. There are ten heroes to choose from, whose unique physics have an impact on how the levels are generated. You can adapt your hero to suit your mood and influence how the stages are for each playthrough, or you can even design your own levels with an in-built editor and create a custom campaign to challenge your friends.

Should we be excited? We’re going to go out on a limb here, and say yes. This is not your average platformer, and while procedurally generated levels aren’t a completely unique concept, they do have the added attraction of making even a standard platformer brain-mashingly hard. Well, it’s attractive to us, okay? We’re hardcore. Also, it’s infinite. Yes, we said infinite. Although most will be splatted long before they’ve played for an actual eternity, we can see an awful lot of competition springing up around this title.

The coolest thing about it is the AI. It creates levels off the cuff based on your selected hero’s abilities and your own level of skill. That means it gets hard as you get better – but it also means that, potentially, this is the hardest platform game ever made. You can’t learn it, for one. Those days spent playing Mario and learning the exact location of every gap and Goomba won’t help you here. Cloudberry Kingdom will challenge your reactions, reflexes and patience every time you play it.

The Story Mode is pretty cool, focusing on Bob, a disillusioned platforming game hero who has grown tired of saving the princess over and over again, and who just wants to sit and get fat and hairy in a pool of self-loathing. The princess is just as fed up as Bob, and the only one who seems to be enjoying the repeated kidnap and rescue cycle is mad villain King Cobbler, whose sole aim in life is to steal the princess. It’s ironic, self-referential and exactly the kind of storyline that a game like this needs. It is a homage to every classic platform game ever made.

And yet, beyond the humour and the AI and the infinite levels, is the passion that’s gone into creating this game. The games we look at in On Our Radar are always indie and most often Kickstarted, and it’s for a reason. The risk-taking, the hard-work and the drive behind these games is more endearing and more attractive than million-dollar ad campaigns, and titles like Cloudberry Kingdom are an affirming reminder of what this industry can produce when the main ingredients are passion and determination.

It’s title may sound like an eShop throwaway, but Cloudberry Kingdom is very much a game for those genre fans who truly like a challenge. The art style is great, and the fact that the core gameplay mechanics have barely altered beyond a lick of paint since the early concepts is testament to the faith Pwnee have in their product. If you’re looking for a solid, deep platform adventure to satisfy your masochistic tendencies (you sick puppy), then Cloudberry Kingdom could be the indie gem you’re looking for.

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For more information, follow Pwnee Studios on Facebook and Twitter.