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Cloudberry Kingdom is a procedurally-generated platforming game with a twist

Hayden Dingman | Aug. 7, 2013
Cloudberry Kingdom, the debut game from Pwnee Studios, is a strong effort that unfortunately falls prey to the main flaw of procedurally-generated content—recognizable algorithmic patterns of behavior. Once the puzzle is solved, there's little reason to return.

You'd be forgiven if you took one look at an average level in Cloudberry Kingdom, the debut from Pwnee Studios, and deemed it impossible. It's sheer chaos. Visual nonsense. Overload. A tableau of lasers, wrecking balls, spikes, and lava so dense you can barely see the platforms leading inexorably towards the exit. Maybe you can't see the platforms, taking a leap of faith and hoping by the time you fall the whole mess parts like a deadly Red Sea and reveals a momentary spot of calm for you to land--only for you to immediately leap away.

See, Cloudberry Kingdom's levels weren't designed by humans, with all those particularly human weaknesses like "mercy" and "empathy." Every platform, every searing laser or deceitful spike strip was laid by the cold, calculating hands of a computer algorithm designed by lead developer Jordan Fisher.

It's safe to say no human could build Cloudberry Kingdom's levels by hand. They're so complex, and require such precision timing, that the computer powering the heart of the game is obvious. It's like someone built the most complex wind-up toy possible and then set it loose.

This level wasn't built in a day
Every procedurally-generated level has one rule: there must be a path the player can take from start to finish. Everything else is flexible. Cloudberry Kingdom's platforming is just a surface-level abstraction hiding what is, essentially, a puzzle game. Actually jumping from platform to platform is hard enough, sure, but figuring out the route the computer intended you to take through each level is the real game here.

The nearest analogue, Super Meat Boy, may be a more difficult game overall (more on that later) but the levels are sparse in comparison. A series of saws here, some spikes over here, a laser or two. You can screw up early in a level and still recover because the game is built that way.

Not so in Cloudberry Kingdom. When I say the computer only needs to give you one path through each level, I mean it. Move too fast or linger too long, and the window closes. The various enemies and platforms will likely never line up again in the precise configuration you need to make it through to the end, so you might as well restart.

It's brutal. Punishing. Cloudberry Kingdom wants to turn you into a platforming machine, with superhuman levels of precision.

Yet as frustrating as the premise sounds, Cloudberry Kingdom is addictive. Die, and you restart instantly--each level is short enough (under a minute each) that it's easy to get into a "one more" mentality. I felt peaceful as I played, pulling off rapid-fire jump sequences with perfect timing and missing each new obstacle by a mere instant.

 

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