Developer: Pwnee Studios
Genre: 2D Platformer
Player: Single Player, 2-4 Local Co-op
When you first hear that title, your mind will most likely wander towards thoughts of happy little trees and puppy dog tails due to just how damn adorable sounding it is. If you didn't know any better, you might even mistake it for the name of some kids show on Nickelodeon. It would probably never occur to you that such a happy sounding name belongs to a hell beast of a platformer which not only makes you want to swear and squeeze your controller in frustration, but would make Mario himself feel like crying in a corner. Yet that is exactly what Cloudberry Kingdom is, a 2D platformer which takes a page from the Super Meat book and cranks the difficulty up to eleven.
But how could we possibly get ourselves excited for a 2D platformer which promises to cause frustration, even if it is backed up with a strong feeling of satisfaction? In an indie market where 2D platformers can more often than not be considered a dime a dozen, it's a special moment when you come across one which not only handles difficulty in a perfectly reasonable manner, but does so without ever resorting to nonsense. Thankfully, the developers behind Cloudberry Kingdom, Pwnee Studios, decided against making their game completely nonsensical and stuck to the tried and true formula which forces players to actually better themselves.
One of the things that gamers have come to expect from a 2D platformer ,which puts incredible emphasis on the platforming, is the Story Mode backed up by a story which has no real bearing on the game-play in and of itself. That's not to say that the Story Mode doesn't have a point from a game-play perspective, of course, but a short tale about someone off to save the princess from an evil schmuck is hardly worth going on about. Even if it does feature the voice talent of the awesome Kevin Sorbo...
Instead, it would be pretty safe to say that the Story Mode can be viewed as an overly long tutorial. Until you reach levels which pass the triple digit mark, you'll most likely have little to no issues with completing any of them, assuming of course that you're somewhat experienced with fast paced platforming. The tutorial aspect comes into play every 10 levels (which slowly scale in difficulty) when you're given a new ability to try out. These abilities will range from a simple double jump to a jet-pack to even a spaceship which produces levels that resemble something from Gradius. This change in how levels are designed spills into every set of levels as they force you to actually use your abilities, such as using the jet-packs sustained flight to pass an otherwise impassable gap in the terrain. All of that aside, however, the real magic (and inevitable rage) behind Cloudberry Kingdom comes in the form of the Arcade Mode.
It is with the Arcade Mode that the supposed 'infinite' levels come into play. Of course, there isn't REALLY an infinite number of levels, but when you throw the mass number of variables which can go into a creating a single map together with procedural generation, you get more maps which can ever be played by a mere mortal. The really amazing thing about it is that every map, no matter how crazy it becomes, flows absolutely perfectly.
We're given the choice of four game types which include the simplistic Time Crisis and the significantly more complex Hero Rush, which forces you to fight through levels with ever changing abilities. Getting back to the idea that players should better themselves through gameplay and skill rather than memorizing random death traps (I'm looking at you, I Wanna Be the Guy...), to unlock a significant portion of content in the various game types you must first complete a set number of levels in one go. On top of that, the difficulty in Arcade Mode seems to scale a good bit faster than the story mode and is overall more compelling since each game type adds its own difficult twist to the whole affair.
As if the Arcade Mode was not difficult enough, however, the true masters of Cloudberry Kingdom get their chance to shine with the Free Play mode. It is here that you can customize levels in such a manner that they can be completed by a 5 year old who has never played a video game, require precision and skill that most people could never hope to achieve without some help, or anything in between. You can choose how long the map is, how many obstacles of a particular type there are, and whether or not there is a wall of death following behind you - forcing you to keep on moving.
When all is said and done, Cloudberry Kingdom is an incredibly solid game. The platforming in and of itself is done beautifully and never forces you to stop and wait for a couple of seconds, assuming that you didn't mess up at some point. Once you get your bearings on how it is played, you'll be able to charge through most levels without ever stopping. Throw that together with the fact that levels are rather short (usually no longer than about 30 seconds) and you get one of those games that keeps telling you to try just one more time, pulling you in and forcing you to become addicted.
There isn't very much to Cloudberry Kingdom once you look closely, but if you're looking for a challenge than this is most definitely the game for you.