Super Cloudbuilt is the latest entrant in the niche genre of parkour platformer. But does this title achieve the delicate balance of being a fast, frenetic and fun free-runner that it aims to be? Or does it descend into a frustrating mess of instant fails?
Super Cloudbuilt immediately stands out with its appearance. A stunningly slick cel-shaded aesthetic sees the player leaping, wall running and dashing through maze-like levels, the silky smooth frame rate never dropping below 60fps. What little storyline it has is of no real importance, but does prove effective in tying together such a disparate range of level themes. The player takes on the role of a mysterious solider in an unknown war, currently unconsciousness and bound to a bed within an eerily empty and seemingly fully automated hospital. A bedridden warrior clearly isn’t going to be terribly effective at navigating the treacherous floating platforms that make up the majority of the level design.
So instead, with the intention of healing the soldier, the player takes on the role of their virtual consciousness, attempting to successfully navigate the platforms to repair the soldier’s fractured mind. Or something. The story is easily the weakest element of the game, with its loose mystery simply serving as a link between levels and the hospital itself acting as a central hub that allows the player access to the rest of the game. In many ways, I would prefer to simply get into the frantic platforming action without this needless distraction because, by Zeus’ beard, the gameplay is blisteringly fast.
Controls are initially simple enough; a leap and the ability to wall run sees the player scampering around early levels with deceptive simplicity. A gun and grenades are soon provided, but this title is not intended to be a shooter, the generous auto aim proving rather helpful in quickly dispatching the robotic drones that litter each location.
Instead it’s the arrival of your jetpack that really sees business picking up. It’s a well-known fact that jetpacks are awesome and make everything better, and this eternal truth most certainly applies for Cloudbuilt. Providing the player with extended airtime, as you feather the L1 button with sweaty finger, the puffs of flame from the jetpack see the imposingly distant platforms become reachable. The jetpack also has a boost function, and it might just be the most satisfying boost mechanic that I’ve seen in a videogame since 2010’s Vanquish. A squeeze of L2 sees the player burst forward in a spray of cel shaded fire, the level blurring as they hurtle forward at breakneck speed. These two functions of boost and burst change the game and offer a truly original take on the platformer mechanic, the prescriptive developer-led route through the level is suddenly gone. With enough skill, the player can literally navigate through the game however they wish.
This is a daunting challenge, as each level is made up of disconnected walls, platforms, runways and tunnels suspended above a sea of death. One mistake in your sequence of movement will see you plunging into the abyss and back to the checkpoint to try and do it all again. This is Cloudbuilt’s Marmite moment. This is a hard game. For any gamer who prides himself or herself for their achievements within their favourite pastime, Cloudbuilt is here to tell you that your achievements mean nothing and that you suck.
Precise timing is required to reach the goal within each level, and you’ll soon be wall running and leaping, bursting and boosting, whilst dodging moving beams of light and lasers from distant robotic drones. You will die, but it will be your fault as the controls and game mechanics are tight and refines. It will be a rare occasion that the game fails you, instead it will be your own lack of skill that will see you die again. And again. And again. And again.
The developer attempts to mitigate the frustration of this by allowing the player to place their own respawn checkpoints, ideally before a really hard bit. These flags are finite, yet more can be gathered. There is no map in Cloudbuilt, instead distant, differently coloured pillars of light mark the location of items and the level exit, ensuring that the player always knows in which general direction to go and where respawn flags lurk, if not how to get there. These nice touches don’t do enough to eliminate controller rage though, nor enough to ensure that a player doesn’t smash their controller against their own skull before placing the broken plastic remains on a raft, launching the remnants onto a lake and then setting it all on fire in a burning pyre representing their own failure. Not that this happened to me. OK, maybe once.
Super Cloudbuilt is a stunningly well realised game. It’s fun and frantic, yet the player is always in control. How much you enjoy this game will really depend on how much of a glutton for punishment you are. Cloudbuilt is frustratingly hard, but those with the patience and skill to persevere will find a rich and rewarding title with a great deal of replayability, returning to each level to find the optimal routes and looking like a boss whilst doing so.
Version tested: PS4