Nintendo WiiU, PC, PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade
Review based on Xbox Live Arcade version
Developer: Pwnee Studios
Release Date: July 31st, 2013
First things first, the audio here is surprisingly well done. The choice of Techno music suits the flash-style graphics and old-school side-scrolling look with a modern touch, though not quite the fairy-tale look and story line. The songs are catchy in their own right, and will appeal to a very broad audience. If you wonder what the song name is or who the group performing it happens to be, this information appears on the bottom left of the screen like a traditional music video. The downer here is that there’s only a few songs available with the game, which does cause them to become boring quicker than they would have if another three or four songs had been included, leaving you to find your own suitable music in the end.
Short soundtrack aside, the voice acting is kept to a minimum, sticking only to Story Mode, but it is handled by individuals who put in some genuine effort, and do a good job at it. No, none of the character dialogue really sticks out, but you can feel the frustration in the voice of Bob, the games main character that is voice by actor Kevin Sorbo, the somewhat over-the-top confidence of the main villain, and the general lack of concern the princess has after a while. Other than that, there aren’t many sound effects in the game, and what do appear sound as though they were ripped right out of Super Mario Bros. from the Nintendo Entertainment System days, and in some cases slightly modified.
Like it was pointed out already, the graphics look more like something out of a Flash game, but given the simple level designs, it works. The backgrounds are well done and have a decent amount of depth to them, though some foreground obstacles, such as the circling string of rotating fireballs, look incredibly familiar and retro. The cut scenes in Story Mode, however, look more like an odd polygon version of Little Big Planet with some intentionally choppy animation, all playing up that fantasy vibe of the hero saving the damsel in distress. Similar graphics to the in-game visuals, however, would drastically kill the game, as it would make things very hard to follow, and in a game where timing is everything, it’s wise to not go that route, especially when it’s a little hard to keep up with your own character the way it is, let alone when there’s four Bobs on the screen with slight variations to one another.
Cloudberry Kingdom does have a few different gameplay options available, but the only time any story is given is during Story Mode, and it is a bit generic. This is your typical damsel in distress story, yes, but our hero is not there to save the princess. Instead, he is there to save the crystal our villain is using. Upon the princess realizing this, things do twist around, and the cut scene graphics play a vital role when one of them happens to die, showing what the textures are supposed to represent. Every forty stages there is a brief cut scene that explains the next set of levels, such as moving from roof tops to woods to a lava filled castle, so it keeps these stages within context from start to finish instead of just being random stage designs for the sake of having more visuals than songs in the soundtrack.
Aside Story Mode, you also get Arcade Mode, and Free Play. Arcade Mode, which is the real heart and soul of this game, is set up with four different set of rules. Escalation gradually builds the intensity and is based on how many lives you have, earning one more as you collect gems. There’s a Time Trial mode that adds time to the counter with said gems, and offers incredibly short stages. The other two are time based as well, and focus on the different variations of Bob that are available in the game that you unlock the further you progress with each version. Hero Rush gives you a different Bob, such as Tiny Bob, Bouncing Bob, even Starship Bob that turns him into a spaceship moving automatically, aloowing you control only of the speed and height of the ship. Then there’s Hybrid Rush Mode which gives you weird twisted combination of various Bobs, such as mixing Tiny Bob, Box Bob (which is Bob in a box that only moves when you jump), and Jetpack Bob. These are a little harder due to how fast you have to race through the stages, and have no time to get accustomed to the hybrids you’re playing, or even take note of what ones are being combined before exiting the current stage.
Next is Free Play, which lets you set up certain stages, or play ones you saved from regular Arcade or Story Mode, an option available in the pause menu. This also offers the interesting Bungee Mode, which ties each Bob together with a bungee chord, making it almost impossible to progress unless you all move forward together. It’s a fun little addition to mess around with, making things as simple as you want, or as insanely impossible as your twisted heart desires.
The gems also play a factor in the game by adding lives and time to Arcade Mode, but also giving you the option to use special powers. There’s only three options, and all do end up really helpful when things become a bit too complex. You can spend gems to watch a computer Bob show you the best way to complete a stage, or you can buy a slow motion power up that slows everything down, including Bob, so you have time to think of where you’re going. But, the most effective is the option to have a marker show you the way that you can run along with, which is nothing more than a green circle following a white dotted line. It can cause you to mistake it for Bob during the most hectic of levels, but it’s still effective enough to help you complete tough stages, especially in Story Mode.
With those three modes that offer so many different ways to play, and the option to unlock so many different variations of Bob, you also get an endless supply of randomized stages. Yes, many can look similar with only a few minor changes, but you never do get the same one it seems, always giving you some fresh puzzles, or even ones with a simple path to follow. This helps to make playing Arcade Mode and trying to complete all the levels necessary to unlock a new starting stage (like level fifty or two hundred and fifty) instread of just starting at the first stage all the more enjoyable.
But, with all these pros, there is one major con, and that’s the lack of on-line co-op. For whatever reason, Pwnee Studios made this game local co-op only, which is an absolute shame because playing Free Play and especially Arcade Mode with friends is an absolute blast. As a gamer who grew up on largely single player titles, I loathe gaming with anyone aside fighting games, and playing anything with my casual gaming fiancee is a pain. But, playing this with her was incredibly fun and had us laughing hard at times to the absolute madness some stages threw at us, and how easily one of us might die.
Perhaps this is because of how technical this game can be, requiring gamers to think and act fast much like in similar merciless titles N+ and Super Meat Boy, and lag would only greatly hurt those involved. This is the most obvious reason if there really is one. But, if you happen to have friends with similar internet connections, it wouldn’t be that big a problem, and would make for one insanely fun night in with friends on-line, especially if getting up to four people in a room at the same time is nearly impossible.
In the end, Cloudberry Kingdom is a technical two-dimensional platforming game of sheer sadistic madness. Story Mode and Arcade Modes Escalation and Time Trial alone are enough to test your skills, and having Bob change in some modes does show how easy it is to throw somebody off with the slightest of changes. If this title had on-line co-op, and a little more to the soundtrack, this sincere homage to Super Mario Bros. and others from the days of early obstacle fueled platforming would have been one of the most impressive downloadable titles to come out in 2013, as playing with friends really changes how much fun you’ll get out of it. Hopefully a patch corrects this at some point, or even as downloadable content as a reasonable price. Until then, Cloudberry Kingdom is still an incredibly fun game you won’t being able to put down, let alone walk away from willingly.
Digital review copy of this title provided by Ubisoft.