Ugh, Cloudberry Kingdom. How I hate you, and yet I love you. I’ve cursed you out more times in one hour than I have the entire span of games that I’ve played this year. Yet you bring me so much satisfaction when I reach the end of your randomly generated stage.
Cloudberry Kingdom features an endless supply of short, frustrating levels that can only be completed with expert timing, precise platforming, and the patience of a saint. Because of this, it’s one of the most frustrating games you’ll ever play through, but it’s also one of the most rewarding.
No matter how different each stage appears, and I’ve gone through hundreds of them, they all have a similar layout, similar obstacles and enemies, and require the very same formula of "skill plus luck equals 'I finally fucking made it!'” to complete. Pendulums swing and blocks disappear, both leaving the smallest spot for footing and an even tinier window to make the next jump. Timing is everything, and you only have yourself to blame if you lose. Even if that timing is plain as day, and it will be, actually landing each jump and making it to the end of a course is an entirely different story.
Depending on the difficulty, which in Free Play can be customized to extremes like you’ve never witnessed before, the path becomes either more or less visible. It’s always there, but there can be so much going on that it’s damn near impossible to see. The game even proves that it’s possible by giving you the option to spend gems to let the CPU show you how it’s done, create a path, or slow down the gameplay.
When the Story mode starts out, it’s easy. Too easy. To the point that it’s misleading, because fewer than 100 stages later you’ll be wanting to smash your controller to itty-bitty pieces, then set them afire, stomping it out to take out every last bit of rage the game has brought out of you. Or maybe that’s just me and I need anger management. You play Cloudberry Kingdom and decide.
In part, I recommend this game even just to see just how difficult it can get. But only if you’re brave enough, or if you are the type that wouldn’t be angered if someone hauled off and slapped you square in the face. That difficulty can be cool and a real showpiece—a test of your might, if you will. But it is also too much, killing the enjoyment of the game. And outside of the difficulty, there isn’t any real reason to play Cloudberry Kingdom.
The story is generic, and the music I enjoyed at first, quickly became annoying, adding to the game’s repetitive feel and frustration. However, the art style and the odd humor does make up for where the story and music fall flat. Bob can be customized with epic beards, capes, and ridiculously awesome hats. And the game will throw random modifiers for Bob to contend with, like putting him on a pogo stick, attaching him to a wheel to roll through a stage, or even bungee-chaining him to three other Bobs in multiplayer.
With up to four players, Cloudberry Kingdom can be even more fun, but even more of a challenge. As if getting through the entire stage wasn’t difficult enough at times, try doing so with the aforementioned scenario of being chained to three others. If one falls into a pit, they don’t respawn, and instead the remaining three must tread forward with dead weight hanging, making some jumps completely impossible. This goes back to the biggest conundrum plaguing Cloudberry Kingdom: When you can actually complete a stage, it’s on the edge of being too easy. Or it’s too difficult to do so. Middle ground is few and far between where a decent challenge is had—that doesn’t leave the player at the brink of a total meltdown.
The sheer lack of variety, despite two stages never being the same ever thanks to the brilliantly designed, random level-generating engine that Pwnee Studios has designed, leaves Cloudberry Kingdom feeling thin on content. A Free Play mode where you set the challenge and an Arcade Mode don’t amount to enough reason to keep playing after you’ve seen a hundred or so levels. And that difficulty, that frustration, means you may not want to even if there was more to do; that is, unless you’re a glutton for punishment, craving a serious challenge, or just want to witness your entire TV screen filled with enemies, obstacles, and pendulums to see if you can win. Then Cloudberry Kingdom is for you—you sick bastard.