Cloudberry Kingdom sounds a bit like one of those free-to-play cutesy-looking titles that you’d usually find on Facebook – probably having something to do with trading fruit to friends while maintaining a happy little kingdom full of poorly illustrated, smiling animals. Thankfully, hidden under the game’s somewhat cheery name is a title that’s anything but casual.
Pwnee Studios' debut release is actually a simple, slightly unoriginal platformer where you’re tasked with getting from one side of a stage to the other – it’s everything in between that gives the title its personality. From swinging blades to spiked ledges, the difficulty increases exponentially as you progress, resulting in levels that are almost completely obscured by hazards.
All it takes is one hit or one fall to be transported back to the start of the level – or to the last checkpoint if you happen to be playing through a slightly lengthier area. It’s the kind of gameplay setup that often leads to frustration, but this particular title benefits from having no load times, meaning that you’re dropped right back into the action if you happen to kick the bucket.
Indeed, you’ll be kicking plenty of buckets during your time with the release – but the challenge that Cloudberry Kingdom provides isn’t its only strength, as it’s also a very capable platformer in its own right. This is partly because of the game’s very basic nature – it never tries to do anything unnecessary outside of the most simple genre tropes which it pulls off so well.
However, when a title refuses to delve deeper into its own mechanics, repetition typically factors into the experience – but for the most part, that isn’t the case here. Each level is randomly generated, and while the simplistic gameplay stays the same, it means that you’re never able to learn the ins and outs of a specific stage. Your only choice, therefore, is to run and jump your way through every obstacle that presents itself, resulting in an experience that’s consistently engaging and where timing means everything.
Rather ingeniously, the random environments all appear to operate in a noticeable pattern. Spikes will rise and fall into the floor while wrecking ball pendulums swing in such a way that there’s always a specific path to follow through the mayhem. It’s because of this never-ending motion that listening to your instincts is usually the best way to clear a level, while hesitation and over-thinking often lead to mistimed and fatal leaps.
This in turn results in a game that demands to be played at an extremely fast pace. Even if you find yourself dying over and over again at the hands of the same set of lethal traps, a quick tap of both the L1 and R1 buttons at the same time will instantly teleport your character back to the last checkpoint. Of course, the title’s inherent speed is almost always hampered at some point by the seemingly impossible trials that eventually show up, which is a shame, especially after you’ve been previously racing through countless stages with relative ease.
That said, there will be times when something just clicks inside of your brain, and you’ll feel almost unstoppable as you glide from one platform to the next while weaving in and out of countless dangers as if they're not there. It's times like these where suddenly the impossible is possible, and this is where the game is at its glorious, adrenaline-fuelled best.
Despite its toughness, though, the title actually features four different difficulty settings if you’re not quite up to the daunting tasks that are seen in the release’s promotional trailers. You can train to your heart’s content in free play mode, where you can tweak everything from the overall difficulty to the length of the environments.
If you get tired of simply jumping from ledge to ledge, there are plenty of weird and wonderful alternatives that help to spice up the gameplay. For example, you can strap your character to a wheel and roll through areas at tremendous speeds, or attach a jetpack and soar over obstacles. You can even alter your size, or gift yourself with a traditional double jump, providing you with the option of mastering whichever form of movement you feel most comfortable with.
The self-explanatory story mode opens up with a delightful cutscene which introduces the game’s protagonist, Bob. While there’s no continual plot to speak of, the clichéd goal of rescuing a princess falls to our circular, bald hero. The character can be customised using different hats, facial hair styles, and colour schemes, and although these visual changes don’t affect gameplay in any way, the ability to personalise your avatar is a welcome addition.
Sadly, further aesthetic add-ons are just about the only unlockable reward that you’ll earn. While the action itself is gratifying due to its demanding nature, it’s disappointing that there’s otherwise very little to collect or work towards besides completing each respective mode.
Speaking of which, customisation is all but a necessity when it comes to the local multiplayer, as with up to four Bobs bouncing around on screen at once, having similar looking characters can cause massive confusion. However, multiplayer creates an absolutely fantastic competitive dynamic, in which only the first player to make it to the end of a stage survives.
Because of the game’s comedic styling and hectic gameplay, Cloudberry Kingdom actually proves to be a fantastic party game, and surprisingly, it’s arguably the title’s greatest achievement. With friends, you can tackle any mode that you wish, and reaching a point where neither you nor your guests can move an inch without dying is almost guaranteed to result in hilarity. Just be ready for the shrieks of disapproval when you somehow complete an impossible stage, subsequently leaving your former friends to rot.
As previously mentioned, the release’s styling is colourful and comedic, and it’s honestly hard not to laugh as Bob gets horribly crushed and explodes into a cloud of smoke accompanied by a silly sound effect. Meanwhile, the soundtrack is made up of licensed tunes – most of which are electronica – and it suits the gameplay very well, especially when certain beats begin to match up with your platform-hopping tempo.
A colourful, addictive, and satisfying platformer, Cloudberry Kingdom is fantastic fun, and only gets more enjoyable when friends are added to the mix. Whether you enjoy quick stints of responsive platforming, or you’re determined to top the competitive online leaderboards, this endless supply of randomly generated content delivers plenty of difficult but delicious value.