Publisher: Rising Star Games
Cloudbuilt is absolutely breathtaking in every sense of the word. Not only is this indie platformer an achingly beautiful masterclass in hand-drawn art design, but it's blisteringly fast, taking everything we know about parkour and strapping it directly onto a Saturn V rocket.
You wouldn't know it from the start, though. We find ourselves in a deserted empty city, a lonely expanse of dark corridors floating over an endless abyss, controlling an ethereal figure with no name or purpose. As we explore, we gradually learn the basics; jumps, double leaps, grabs, then graduating to wallruns as we search or answers. Eventually the truth will out, revealing that the action takes place in the broken mind of a recovering injured military operative.
Some games would have taken things off in a soulful and melancholy direction, but Cloudbuilt does quite the opposite. Freed from the tyranny of realism and convenional geometry by their imaginative setting, Coilworks waste no time in pouring our heroine into a battle exoskeleton armed with massive rocket boosters and a laser cannon, then loose her onto some outrageously twisted arenas against the clock. Oh yes. We loved the premise ever since it was first unveiled, so I'm delighted to report that the preview build is shaping up to be a bit of a belter ahead of its late March release.
Even though, as you'll know if you watched my first impressions video, I do rather suck at it.
Cloudbuilt's twenty arenas are intricate playgrounds suspended impossibly in space; bizarre configurations of walls, ramps, spikes, and floating platforms. Not to mention mines and robotic defenders bristling with weaponry. As such, you'll chain increasingly advanced series of boosted double jumps, grabs, wallruns and all while doing your damndest to avoid falling into the abyss below. Thankfully a replenishing booster rocket is capable of fuelling utterly outrageous feats of agility, such as blasting straight up vertical surfaces, pelting down ramps in a heartbeat or covering huge gaps during flame-gouting leaps of faith - at least, should you ration your energy effectively.
It's slick and twitchy, requiring more thought and nuance than the freerunning we recently experienced in Titanfall. Successfully pulling off a wallrun requires you to enter the jump at the perfect angle, while keeping the camera centred on your destination rather than the wall itself, then carefully applying your boost exactly when needed to stay aloft. Maintaining momentum is crucial, since a single mis-timed jump or grab can result in your organic flow through the stage being cruelly cut short, requiring you to dig deep into a limited pool of checkpoint continues.
Just reaching the level goal requires a great deal of skill, but doing so under par demands pitch-perfect timing and a cool head under extreme conditions. Indeed, I often found myself involuntarily leaning back in my chair due to the feeling of reckless, irresponsible, barely-controllable speed.
Cloudbuilt isn't just an execution challenge, though. After easing you into the basics with a couple of very linear test tracks, the levels suddenly open up into sprawling multi-path sandboxes . Rather than boosting into a leaderboard-crushing speedrun on your first attempt, these more thoughtful stages encourage you to explore and discover an optimal route. Will you boost straight up a wall or jump over a series of platforms, or attempt to carefully backflip off a vertical wall onto a lofty perch above? Will you dally to destroy robotic guardians and turrets or attempt to dodge past them without taking too much damage? Methodical groundwork and memorisation often reveals exploits that let you cut out whole chunks of level, should you have the skill to pull them off.
Long-term replay value will stem from eventually becoming both skilled and knowledgable enough to to the leaderboards, and we thoroughly expect a thriving community of Twitch broadcasters to show us mere mortals how to get those oh-so-gruelling A ranks.
The preview build is roughly 80% complete, so naturally there's a fair bit of polishing to be done before March. Limited enemy damage feedback and animations are being addressed, but we do have some constructive criticism of our own. Frankly, Cloudbuilt would feel much more intuitive on a controller as opposed to a mouse and keyboard (like most platformers), while the wallrunning detection could stand to be a little more on the generous side. I've yet to truly master the mechanics, but sometimes find myself knowing what I want to do without being able to quite pull it off, especially since the occasional jump results in a useless plant rather than triggering a run or boost of its own.
But all of my criticisms tend to catch in my throat as I behold what is one of the prettiest games I've seen in months. It's a comic in motion; a colourful, vibrant, pen-scratched world brought to life so vividly you can see each stroke.
I mean, just look at it.
No, really, look.
Both breathtaking, blistering and beautiful, Cloudbuilt could well become one of Spring's most exciting left-field surprises. We'll keep you up to date with the latest over the coming weeks.