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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.

Not so random
Cloudberry Kingdom has three main modes, each with a different feel: Story, Arcade, and Free Play.

Story Mode is the closest you'll get to an authored experience. The levels are still procedurally-generated, but they seems to have been pre-generated, selected and then arranged into the order found here. Also there are a lot of levels. Like, hundreds.

After solving a certain number of levels you get a new cutscene telling the story of Bob, a grizzled, paunched, middle-aged hero who's grown tired of saving the princess and the realm. These scenes are brilliantly animated, with a papercraft, stop-motion feel that's utterly at odds with the rest of the game's Flash-esque visuals. Also, Kevin Sorbo does Bob's voice and it's kind of incredible.

Progression is handled well in story mode. Some levels are definitely harder than others, but there are no huge difficulty spikes.

Every ten levels you'll change abilities. You start the game as "Classic" Bob, meaning you can jump once. In the second set of levels, however, you'll grow a pair of wings and gain the ability to double jump. Then you'll lose your wings and strap on a jetpack. Eventually you'll hit a section where you can only move while jumping, or you have to invert gravity VVVVVV-style.

Put another quarter in
Arcade mode gives you a set number of lives and then serves up levels until you run out. Theoretically this mode could continue on forever, as there are an infinite number of permutations for the computer to generate; however, each level is a bit harder than the one that came before and your weak, fleshy thumbs (you are playing with a gamepad, right?) will eventually meet their match.

There's also a scoring mechanism in place that's not present in the other modes, which makes it a bit more important to follow the proper path and collect the various gems scattered throughout the level.

Freedom of choice
Most interesting, however, is Cloudberry Kingdom's Free Play mode. Here you can pull back the curtain to watch the game's algorithms work, modifying dozens of options to create your own levels.

There are macro-level choices, such as the difficulty, size, and setting of the level. However you can also delve into the minutiae, changing everything from the gravity to the length of your character's jump and how much friction each platform exudes. Generate a particularly fiendish level and you can save it to share with others later--though only by writing down a string of text.

Free Play is a great look at the heart of Cloudberry Kingdom, and gives you a much better understanding of how the computer generates levels.


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