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Super Cloudbuilt Review

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After the five hour story, I’ve just about got carpal tunnel from the sheer volume of frantic jumping and sliding I’ve done in Super Cloudbuilt. This new title from Coilworks and Double Eleven is a remake of the original ‘Cloudbuilt’, which dropped in 2014 exclusively for PC. Super Cloudbuilt brings all the pain, joy and frustration of the self-proclaimed ‘parkour platformer’ to console.

The game places players in the shoes of Demi, an injured yet dedicated soldier. You awaken into a decrepit building and spend the first few minutes jumping over, between and through various obstacles. After these first few tests you find yourself on the edge of a building in the sky – introducing the titular theme of clouds – and you’ll be presented with the thruster pack, which allows Demi to run faster, jump higher and wall-run further. You then make your way to a hospital sort-of building, which serves as your base of operations – from it you can select levels and rejuvenate health. And here, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a sort of dream world constructed by Demi’s subconscious, where each level represents a hurdle she must conquer in order to understand and overcome her injury.

The story is pretty uneventful. Demi’s constant monologue provides the only real basis for the narrative. And sadly, she’s far from a compelling narrator. Her emotions chop and change from curious to anxious and there’s never anything prompting these fluctuations. So Demi’s story doesn’t elicit sympathy so much as it elicits confusion or even frustration. The main issue with Super Cloudbuilt as a story experience is that the narrative isn’t really linked with the gameplay. While each level has a funky name – like Fear or Inspiration – there’s nothing in the level that conveys the story. It’s not compelling to begin with and the endings are anticlimactic. At best, the narrative feels like an audio track combined with levels that vaguely reflect the theme.

Visually, however, the game is breathtaking. Players can choose from a number of graphical options: painted, vibrant and colour pencil to name a few. There’s no real significance to the choice; but this level of customisation is always fun, and it’s a type of fun that isn’t offered by many games these days. Regardless of the graphical choice, levels weave together in awesome arrays of colour. Each level stacks onto itself, and you progress upwards through the gorgeous, yet dangerous, worlds navigating fluorescent lasers and flashing enemies. It’s a viscous yet captivating display of colour. And I’ve got to admit that about half of my total deaths occurred because I was so transfixed by the game’s design that I totally forgot what I was doing.

As stellar as that compliment may be, it does, of course, beg the question about the other half of my deaths? They, unfortunately, came from random difficulty spikes. See, while the vertical cloud covered worlds are beautiful, they throw challenges through sporadic difficulty spikes. After you complete a fairly barebones tutorial, you’re thrust headfirst into the game. And there’s no real feeling of learning as you progress. Parts of the early levels were just as hard, if not harder, than the final levels. And while later levels introduce new challenges (such as zones where the thruster pack cannot be used), these challenges progress similarly – that is to say with volatile difficulty. This idea of difficulty progression is integral to platformers – it’s what makes them fun. You learn to embrace difficulty by way of an escalating challenge. Super Cloudbuilt ignores this, and instead just throws levels at you willy-nilly. It doesn’t teach you to drive; it just straps some blocks to your feet and puts you in the car even though you’re viciously unprepared. Then it yells ‘don’t forget the checkpoints’ as you thunder off down the wrong side of the road.

But, the checkpoint system isn’t any better. Checkpoints are placed throughout levels without reason or rhyme: one particularly lengthy level had three checkpoints, while another shorter level featured six. The player does have the ability to place their own checkpoints, but only if they’ve collected certain power-ups. You’re also limited to a measly amount of do-overs, and when you’re out, you’ll have to totally restart the level. And there’s nothing quite as infuriating as redoing a difficult section when you’d already beaten it and placed a checkpoint six deaths prior.

Edit: As a commenter has pointed out, I was mistaken in counting these checkpoints. And I apologise for this factual inaccuracy. I meant that checkpoints were placed in peculiar locations. Perhaps that’s to force you into using deployable checkpoints (you start each level with one, and can collect more through exploration). However, the idea of detouring to collect these deployable checkpoints seems counterintuitive. On the whole, I feel that Super Cloudbuilt could well have profited from more strategically placed stock checkpoints.

But Super Cloudbuilt revolves primarily around fast paced platforming and inventive mechanics. And luckily those mechanics are tight. Shooting works well, but the homing bullets remove aim from the equation and after a while it’s just a bit boring. Most of the time I was creatively jumping around enemies rather than shooting them, and that’s just because shooting feels cheap. The jumping, sliding and wall running work almost flawlessly. Moreover, employing combinations thereof allow you to tackle each level in your own way. More often than not you’ll find a way around a difficult path, but it often involves embracing another form of movement. This is an interesting approach and it’s one that gives the game a distinct element of longevity. At times the camera control can become a chore but that’s only when you’ve slowed down. See, the game is meant to be played at a lightning fast pace. The fact that you’ll have to wrestle the camera if you’re crawling through a level just means that you’re playing it wrong.

When you’re jumping over robots and running on walls, Super Cloudbuilt is at its best. But these moments are broken up by poorly sequenced levels, a faulty checkpoint system and an arduous story. When everything comes together Super Cloudbuilt feels effortless; it’s smooth and gorgeous fun. It’s just a shame that those special moments aren’t more common.

  • NoPanDa

    Disclaimer: I have played and like the game to the point where I would have no issue recommending it to others, I’d gladly do so, and I’m writing this after stumbling upon the review on twitter. This is nothing personal.

    I can’t argue with pure opinions, but there are some factual misses in the review here, and the the biggest points of frustration seems to be based around these.

    First: One real factual error is the so called “Zones where the thruster pack cannot be used.”
    In the review you state that they are not introduced until very late in the game, but that is not the case. They are in fact introduced in either the first or the second level you play, depending on which path you chose. It is very early on and they are clearly used as a tool for teaching the players more about the mechanics of the game, and the depths of them.

    Second: The difficulty of the levels.
    The last few levels are clearly much harder than the first ones. There is more of everything and there are much less room for mistakes, no doubt about it. I guess Tobias never went back to the early levels after finishing the later ones and noticed how easy they now were for him (which is in my opinion is a very satisfying feeling).

    Third: Checkpoints.
    You state that you only get deployable checkpoints through power-ups, which is very much NOT the case. You ALWAYS start EVERY level with one of them and can then find many more within the level, and they are there in every level. All these checkpoints are even clearly highlighted with light pillars you can see from far far away. Saying you only get them through power-ups is a real factual error.
    You then also state that there are 6 checkpoints on a small level, but there are in fact not the case, most levels throughout the game has one or two checkpoints, just some really long levels got more.

    Fourth: The story can take drastic jumps, but it depends on how you play.
    Just like the character’s train of thoughts can jump between perspectives and thoughts when coping with the trauma presented in the story, the player can jump between the paths. Each Path’s kind of represent a “trains of thoughts” that, should be mentioned, leads to different endings. If you follow one path at a time, the story is much less “jumpy”. The story is not for everyone though, as it’s not always simple to understand to the fullest, so it can still be a valid critique. But I thought it’s only fair to let other readers know this fact, so they can judge it based on how it’s actually structured.

    Anyway, if Tobias has issues/misunderstandings with these things, I guess there MIGHT be a clarity issue with game’s design, but to me it MUCH more sounds like the issue lies with the amount of care put into the review, as there are such obvious misses, just like with the checkpoints for one(how can you miss that??). There were other misses than those I described here too, but they were more understandable and not as important.

    • Tobias

      Hi,
      Sorry you don’t agree with the review. But this is an opinion-based piece and opinions do tend to differ. However, I feel your comment deserves a response.

      Firstly I never said that the thruster packs come ‘very late’ in the game. I said ‘later’. If you’re going to pedantically check my points, I’d appreciate it if you applied the same diligence to your own.
      You, yourself, pointed out that the game has a number of pathways. And in looking back on it, my progression only brought me to these levels after I’d completed other levels – hence ‘later’.
      Perhaps, as you say, these levels were designed purely for the purpose of ‘teaching the players more about the mechanics of the game’. But then I’d argue that in allowing the open-ended approach to tackling levels, Super Cloudbuilt opens itself up for experiences like mine. And so I stand by my point that the sequence of levels in Super Cloudbuilt is flawed.

      Your issues with my coverage of the story stem from your personal preference. I followed the specific paths. I found the endings to be anticlimactic and I found the Demi’s emotions to be jumpy nonetheless.
      Regarding the complexity of the story, the nuances were not lost on me. I’m aware of the allusions to coping with tragedy, I just didn’t think they were presented well.

      You are, however, entirely correct with the checkpoints. You do start each level with ONE deployable checkpoint. But to place further checkpoints players must collect power ups – hence my use of the plural ‘checkpoints’. I apologise for any confusion this caused. But as a rule, I try to keep my reviews succinct; explaining every mechanic in every game is impossible. So I focus on where games succeed and where they don’t. Explaining the intricacies of this game’s checkpoint mechanic seemed to only convolute my points: that checkpoint distribution is sporadic and that the idea of detouring to collect deployable checkpoints is counterintuitive.

      So thanks for taking the time to formulate a response. I do appreciate your feedback. But I don’t appreciate your presuming my actions or inferring my negligence. I pride myself on putting attention into these reviews and on my work for TheXboxhub. I stand by my points in this review.

      • NoPanDa

        I feel you did not read my response properly, however, I too feel your comment deserves a response.

        Firstly, thruster packs? I never once written about thruster packs in my response, do I need to say more? What I did write about however was the Total Dissipation Fields, aka “Zones where the thruster pack cannot be used”, and they do come in either the first or the second level no matter which path you take, easy to fact check. So; first or second level is what I call ‘early’, but I am sorry if that confused you.

        I really do disagree with you on the story, but it’s really just opinions, as you said, so I agree that there is no use talking about that any further.

        About the checkpoints; if you call those you collect on the level for power-ups, what do you then call the checkpoint packs in your inventory, those where you get a total refill of 3 checkpoints? Either way, the use of your checkpoints get more and more important further into the game, but there is always a checkpoint around, if you actually look for it, and because of the light beacons they are easy to locate.

        Here is a list I made of how many checkpoints there are in each of the levels:
        -The tutorial: Initial Entry: 8 checkpoints, but hey, it’s the tutorial.
        -Difficulty 2: Questions: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 4: The Meaning: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 2: Beyond the walls: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 3: Reflection: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 2: Regrowth: 3 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 3: Remembrance: 1 checkpoint.
        -Difficulty 4: Mistakes: 3 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 5: Implications: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 5: Bearings: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 5: Technology: 1 checkpoint.
        -Difficulty 7: Clarity: 1 checkpoint.
        -Difficulty 8: What’s To Come: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 10: Redeployment: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 7: Best Intentions: 1 checkpoint.
        -Difficulty 6: Escape: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 6: Fear: 1 checkpoint.
        -Difficulty 7: In The Dark: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 9: Mirage: 2 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 10: My Regrets: 3 checkpoints.
        -Difficulty 8: My Source: 1 checkpoint.
        -Difficulty 9: My Inspiration: 3 checkpoints.
        -All Defiance levels: 0 checkpoints, only pickups. (should not do these levels without items xD)

        So where is that short level with 6 checkpoints I ask?

        My only concern here is really that even if you put down time into the game, as you claim, you do not show that very well with your words as you do not explained how it actually works.

        • Tobias

          Hi mate,
          Regarding the number of checkpoints: that’s my mistake, and it’s one that I do not take lightly. I have taken the time to write an edit into the review to clarify this. I feel that this edit conveys my opinions without the initial factual inaccuracy. But again, I will not explain the ins and outs of game mechanics. That is verbose and, in my opinion, unnecessary. It’s never caused a problem in my reviews before.

          I’m also sorry that you don’t find merit to my review. But you’re entitled to that opinion, just as I am to my opinion about this game. However (and with respect), please do not slander my writing skills. By doing that, you risk undermining your other legitimate points – especially when your own sentences are neither grammatically nor syntactically perfect.

          Differences aside, I’d like to thank you for your passion and attention to detail. It’s always good to see a game inspiring emotion – even if it is against me! If you’re always this passionate and attentive in your gaming, maybe you should think about reviewing games yourself. The Internet is rife with opportunity, and you’ve got some bona fide opinions. Get them out there!

          Thanks, once again, for your time and for your attention to detail. But I will have nothing more to say on this matter.