Platforms: PC | PSN | PS Vita | XBLA | Wii U (eShop)
Developer: Pwnee Studios
Cloudberry Kingdom has an unfortunate name. Even the most open-minded gamer will probably be beset with visions of cutesy iPad apps designed to cheekily flog microtransactions to your mewling infants, or the kind of shovelware that infested the Wii a few years back.
However, I'm thrilled to report that this adorable title masks a procedurally-generated platformer of deceptively hardcore proportions; the kind of thumb blistering, retina shredding, instantly engaging technical experience that will challenge even the twitchiest Super Meat Boy veteran. Throughout hundreds of stages, not to mention a randomly-generated mode that ramps up the difficulty the better you play, you'll brave a nightmarish gauntlet of spikes, pits and lasers while getting to grips with new mechanics on the fly.
After a successful Kickstarter, Ubisoft have stepped forward as a publisher for this brave indie proposition, which kicked my arse seven ways 'til Sunday in an hour of hands-on time.
Cloudberry Kingdom uses its childish tone to deliver a refreshingly subversive take on classic cartoons. Having put in a long shift as the fairytale land's saviour, heroic protagonist Bob is good and ready to retire. He's lost his hair, most of his innocence and just wants to kick back on a leather recliner somewhere, but after the princess is captured by an equally apathetic villain, he's forced to go through the motions one last time. Everyone clearly just wants to go home, and the story plays out in some hilarious papercraft cutscenes.
Things start out innocently enough. You'll trick out Bob with an assortment of cosmetic costumes, from afro wigs to capes and all manner of props, before plunging into some disarmingly easy stages to kick things off. Everything seems nice and safe; just a few happy smiling platforms to jump on, gems to collect, and the occasional pit to leap over. Though the art direction is somewhat minimalist, the bright colours and sharp goofy cartoonish sprites help to put you at ease.
The incredibly basic framework (just a single jump at the start) begins to deepen after the first couple of stages. You'll receive a double jump, and time it perfectly to dodge grinning spiked pendulums and moving platforms. A jetpack allows you to hover with careful jabs of the button and a head for gravity. A rocket grants enormous vertical lift, but absolutely no control on the way back down. With only one unique ability per stage, Cloudberry Kingdom gradually eases you into each individual gameplay concept, grounding you in the basics.
And then the hardcore trance music starts as Cloudberry Kingdom kicks into overdrive.
You'll grit your teeth as the screen sizzles with lasers, spikes and fire that makes Ikaruga look like a walk in the park. You'll laugh maniacally as Bob straps himself to a wheel, rolling through a wicked gauntlet of barbs and that resembles the platforming equivalent of the Lament Configuration. As each stage gives way to an even tougher challenge, exploiting patterns in the initially-impenetrable obstacles demands perfect timing (especially if you plan on collecting all of the gems in each level), but rewards you with a burst of adrenaline and endorphins. Indeed, I haven't found myself so deliciously taxed since Super Meat Boy and La-Mulana - though don't worry, we don't have another I Wanna Be The Guy on our hands. Packing both singleplayer and drop-in four player co-op, what I played seems to hit the sweet spot between difficulty and fair play, while delivering an enormity of content.
Critically, the controls seem to be instantly responsive and respawns are nigh-immediate, meaning that player skill ought to be the only determinant between success and abject embarrassment. There also seems to be a pleasing amount of variety in the levels and special skills, which should help keep players invested without malaise setting in. That said, I couldn't help but notice that many of the levels just require you to hold right as soon as it starts, and jump at the correct time like an auto-runner (the traps and pendulums seem to be calibrated in perfect cadence).
Much of Cloudberry Kingdom is procedurally generated, with ever more devilish configurations of traps slotting into place depending on your previous performance. I personally can't vouch for this, since my limited contact time isn't really comprehensive enough to comment on how well it works, but the concept should make for a uniquely replayable experience if Pwnee pulls it off.
Cloudberry Kingdom may look and sound adorable, but if you're looking for a tough, replayable and rewarding downloadable platformer, this Kickstarted adrenaline factory should probably be firmly on your radar. I'll look to deliver a full review when it releases later this year.