3D platformers have experienced a resurgence lately, with Yooka-Laylee and other new games popping up on Xbox One and other platforms. Super Cloudbuilt from Double Eleven (makers of Goat Simulator) is one such game, with gorgeous art and music and an emphasis on speed and mobility. It really is super!
The original Cloudbuilt was an impressive 3D platformer for Steam that didn't gain much mainstream recognition because it never came to consoles. Swedish indie developer Coilworks and UK-based publisher Double Eleven finally recitfy that issue with Super Cloudbuilt, a remake/sequel that expands on the game in every way and brings it to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC gamers.
The meat of the game is Story mode. There players will awaken as a blue female silhouette named Demi. A complete amnesiac, she finds herself trapped within a world of floating ruins and dilapitated buildings. This is where players learn the basic mechanics of the game, and also where the game hooked me. How did Demi find herself within this beautiful, rundown world?
Mild spoiler warning! As the tutorial ends, Demi passes through a door and we learn her basic predicament. There she discovers her physical body, comatose in a hospital room. She has been wounded somehow, and the ability to run through strange environments as a ghost-self (and soon, remembered self) is apparently part of a futuristic healing process.
The hospital then becomes the hub world from which our heroine accesses Super Cloudbuilt's individual levels. Each wings of the hospital contains one or more doors, and the wings expand as Demi enters the doors and completes the levels (which might be flashbacks) therein. The story progresses as you return to the hospital between levels, creating an intriguing and satisfying game structure.
Running through the clouds
Super Cloudbuilt is a 3D platformer with an emphasis on speed. Demi moves through the surreal environments at a breakneck pace, slowing down only to handle tricky sections and enemies – not unlike the Sonic the Hedgehog series.
Initially, the lead character's only move is a jump. But in the first level, she'll pick up several more abilities such as a double jump and wall run. These extra moves are where much of the finesse and challenge comes in. Double jumps and wall runs consume energy, which refills over time and can also be replenished by powers strewn across the level.
Wall running itself is a challenging but rewarding affair. After jumping into a wall horizontally, holding the button causes Demi to run vertically up the wall. If you're holding forward, she'll run diagonally ahead – but the entire run consumes energy. Run out, and she falls – often to her demise.
Many walls are topped by spikes as well, so you often don't want to hit the top anyway. Thus, you'll have to feather the wall run/dash button just enough to move forward in the desired line, all while watching your energy consumption. It's tough, but oh so rewarding.
Demi also picks up a handful of guns with which to activate switches and fend off the robotic enemies she encounters. You can equip two guns, each with its own fire button. Some of these weapons have alternate fire modes (such as a scattershot) when you hold the button instead of tapping. Don't get too reliant on blasting bad guys, though – later modes will restrict your ability to fight back.
As our protagonist runs through the vast floating environments of each level, she'll encounter checkpoints from which she'll respawn when she dies. Demi can also collect usable checkpoint items. Drop one of these near a troublesome area and you'll respawn there if you fail, much like in Ori and the Blind Forest.
These droppable checkpoints are limited, so you can't rely on them too heavily. Your actual lives are limited as well, meaning you'll have to restart the level if you die too much. Thankfully, you can increase your total life-count by finding collectables in each level. Go back to old levels after you've beaten new ones and you'll likely have a much easier time with them and their challenges.
Challenges, modes, and outfits
After beating a set of levels, Demi will unlock option challenges for past levels. These encourage you to play through the level again while enduring super tough restrictions, such as Pacifism (not being able to fire) and Pathfinder (die from one hit). They really do amp up the challenge, and often force you to take new and unorthodox pathways just to progress. You'll generally want to earn as many lives as you can from later levels before returning to old ones for their challenges.
Outside of story mode, you'll find two additional modes: Ranked and Rush. In Ranked mode, you'll revisit completed levels and try to complete them in the shortest possible time. Your completion time will determine your letter grade and global leaderboard position. Rush mode pits players against themed sets of levels. Complete a full set to earn a position on the leaderboard. Both of these extra modes are a fun way to extend the life of the game, assuming you have the skills to pay the bills.
Completing levels and challenges also unlocks new outfits for the protagonist. There are a whopping 63 outfits to unlock. That would be great, except they all seem to be just recolored variations of the default outfit. Plenty of games let players customize clothing colors anyway, so the outfits don't serve as much of a reward at all.
The Xbox One version of Super Cloudbuilt features 38 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Some of these are fun secret ones like activating all eight checkpoints in the Playground level. Most involve completing story levels and earning A-ranks on levels in Ranked mode. Super Cloudbuilt is not an easy game, so completing its Achievements will involve lots of practice and studying video guides.
Super Cloudbuilt initially pulled me in with its gorgeous graphics and soundtrack. The artistry behind this game is extremely impressive, evoking Borderlands and hand-painted artwork. If the standard look somehow doesn't strike your fancy, you can even switch filters in the options to simplify the visuals. Even then, the actual gameplay holds up just as well as the graphics.
This is a game of running at light speed, double-jumping like crazy, and perilously running across walls and over pits. The levels are just so vast and give you plenty to explore, and the collectables are fun to seek out as well. Throw in an intriguing story and you have one of the best indie 3D platformers in years. If you can withstand a true platforming challenge, don't let this one pass you by.
Super Cloudbuilt costs $19.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Steam. It's on sale for 10% off during the first week of launch.
- Beautiful art style with gorgeous colors and effects.
- Fast-paced platforming with plenty of freedom of movement.
- An intriguing story that's almost as propulsive as the gameplay.
- Possibly too challenging for some players.
- Unlockable outfits are extremely unwhelming.
- It's occasionally too easy to lose your way in these vast floating levels.
Xbox One review copy provided by the publisher.
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