Cloudberry Kingdom is platforming insanity, and it fully exposes itself for what it is before even allowing you to reach the main menu. Upon booting the game you’re welcomed to a video that shows the main character, Bob, traversing the most densely packed environments you’ll likely ever see in a side-scrolling platformer. It’s gauntlet after gauntlet of fireballs, buzzsaws, spikes, lasers, boulders and more, plastering about 90% of the screen; it appears impossible, yet you’re watching a video of it being executed flawlessly. It can’t be THAT easy, right? It’s not. It’s extremely hard, but thankfully, the difficulty increases in such a gradual manner, that by the time you reach those unfathomable expectations, you’ll be seasoned in the ways of the game and find it much more manageable. Being conditioned for what comes next, is one of the keys to success.
The other key to success is persistence. Like Super Meat Boy, you’re going to die – a lot. Be prepared for it, embrace it, and be ready to shrug it off when it happens just mere inches from the level’s exit. You won’t have time to live with the guilt anyway, as the game instantaneously restarts you back at the last checkpoint or the beginning of the level. This is the way to do it. It’s the reason you’ll rarely give up, and it’s the reason that you’ll be saying “just one more time” hundreds of times after you’ve meant to stop playing.
Initially, you’ll be tasked with making a few small jumps over a few small gaps, collect a couple jewels, then simply exit through the door at the end of each level. It’s when the various abilities and gameplay mechanics are added into the mix that things get complicated further, and shaken up in an exciting manner. Double jump, jetpacks, pogo, and even a few goofy incarnations of Bob present the player with entirely different weights, overall physics and new styles of gameplay to master. Many of these are zany and lots of fun, but there are some that are a slog to handle – Hero in a Box, which has you moving as you would in a sack race, being our absolute least favorite. Though rarely does any single ability overstay its welcome, and in the end, mostly serve to keep the experience diverse and exciting throughout.
Certain levels will require timing, some lightning-quick reflexes, while others demand memorization and tons of practice. Sometimes you have options, but as difficulty increases and the screen fills up, you lose those options, and have to abide by the game’s rules; only one path to travel, perfect timing. This variation works more often than it doesn’t, mainly ensuring the gamer doesn’t expect that every level can be approached the same as the last, which keeps you on your toes. But it should be said that Cloudberry Kingdom is at its best when it forces the player in motion, rhythmically synchronized with the dangers of the level; not necessarily seeing the path to success with your eyes, but more so feeling it.
There are three modes available, each offering something just a little different. Story mode invites you on Bob’s quest to save the Princess from the villain, King Cobbler. Yes, it’s essentially Mario, and that’s the point; Cloudberry Kingdom is part homage with a heavy dose of satire, and yet somehow the final product retains an identity of its own. There are 7 chapters in total, each comprised of about 40 levels. With every successive chapter, expect drastic increases in difficulty – which generally equates to more-and-more obstacles and obstructions cluttering up the screen – until you reach the Masochistic chapter; in which point, good luck keeping your controller from colliding with the face of your fancy television screen. Story mode is the best way to play solo, but you can even invite up to three friends along for the quest via local co-op.
The multiplayer fun doesn’t end there, as it also extends to the other two modes; Arcade and Free Play. Arcade offers up four variations of gameplay, mostly things you’d expect, like getting as far as you can with a set amount of lives/limited time, playing with different abilities per level and so forth. It’s a blast, and adds purpose to your game-time shenanigans. Free Play gives you the freedom to produce randomly generated levels, by providing a few guidelines. Just enter your preferred environmental setting, what ability to feature, difficulty, level length and number of checkpoints, then viola…a unique level is born. If you end up enjoying whats been created, saving it to your hard drive is an available option. It’s because of the endless supply of levels, that Cloudberry Kingdom offers up more than enough fun to keep you playing for a long, long time to come.
But that’s not to say there isn’t any trouble afoot. Some detection issues, poorly implemented checkpoint restarts, and the case of questionable level layout are occasionally apparent at points throughout all modes. These may attempt to momentarily defuse your enthusiasm for the game, but if you can push beyond these irregular roadblocks, there’s almost always a return to form on the other side. Additionally, we did have a rare issue with walking off edges and landing on surfaces, as if the ground extended beyond what we could see and vice versa. This infrequently led to deaths, but when it did, they felt largely undeserved. Thankfully these issues weren't prevalent enough to detract from our overall impressions of the game.
Addicting, challenging, flat out fun and often a social riot, Cloudberry Kingdom is an experience unlike anything before it. If you’ve been platforming since the days of the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES, and want to put your veteran skills to the test, this is your game. While early stages are accessible to all skill levels, those willing to brave the masochistic difficulties of the later levels will assuredly get the most of out of this one. Sure, there are some issues along the way, but they aren’t frequent enough to slay your good time. For the amount of content on offer here, Cloudberry Kingdom is an absolute no-brainer for anyone interested.