Games have evolved a lot over recent years. After all, when I was a kid games used to be more of the made-up variety, you know, the ones that would see you physically pouncing across your parent’s nice new furniture in order to avoid the impending death that would overcome you if you were to even step a toe on the apparent lava filled floor, at least until the game was forcibly stopped after falling through the coffee table.
Nowadays though, the mention of games is often met with the immediate thought of the last stunning volley you scored on FIFA, or that multi-kill you just earnt with a medical syringe in Battlefield. Sometimes though, a game can come along that gives you back that true nostalgic feel and with Clustertruck making its way to the Xbox Store this last week, I jumped into what might just be the closest iteration of my favourite childhood game available…with its own twist on things.
For those unaware of what Clustertruck is, consider this as hybrid mashup of the popular childhood game ‘the floor is lava’, and that crazy TV programme Ice Road Truckers – if those truckers were REALLY drunk. It also comes with an art style and design almost identical to that of indie gem, SUPERHOT.
The idea of Clustertruck is a simple one; you jump from truck to truck whilst avoiding contact with the floor, and indeed anything else that may arrive in any given level, to reach the goal at the end. Whilst this may sound a little random and rather simple, there is no taking away just how enjoyable this game actually is – or just how frustrating it can become.
In all, there are nine different stages, or ‘Worlds’, with ten levels to conquer in each. Each World has its own specific theme with players required to master Desert, Forest and Winter worlds before moving on to the more exciting and frustrating Laser and Sci-Fi worlds amongst a few others, including an ultimate boss level at the end of the final world, Hell.
So far, so simple right? – Nope!
Whilst Clustertruck may seem like nothing more than simplified platforming, it is certainly not a game that you want to approach light-heartedly. Sure the gameplay is easy enough to just pick up and play, and the controls are super easy to get used to with just a few buttons controlling every action you’re ever going to make, but the challenge this game offers can sometimes get so intense that you’ll be needing to pry yourself away for a few minutes to calm down… or at least I did.
There are two ways to approach this game – if you pay any attention to the achievement list that is. The first way is the way I initially approached the game, and that was to complete every level on my first playthrough without using any of the available movement or utility abilities on offer. After all, each level only takes a minute or two to reach the end, provided you keep a close eye on your landings – the trucks are moving vehicles after all. With just 90 levels making up the entire game that works out at around two hours-ish. However, this was something I gave up with quite quickly and resorted to using everything on offer to ensure I reached the end.
Each world in the game starts you off with some very basic tutorial style levels to get you used to each of the new things they introduce, before cranking up the difficulty as levels progress. The first world for example has players getting used to jumping to each truck with a slight insight into how they move, whilst later levels in the same world will see trucks splitting up, with some of them crashing and exploding or tipping over. This then affects the number of trucks that will make it to the goal you need to pass, meaning you need to ensure you plan where you’re going to jump at all times. Later worlds introduce a range of different hazards making each feel unique to the setting.
That said, Clustertruck is a physics-based platform game, meaning whilst each run will start the same as before, how it ends will prove different almost every time, depending on how the trucks collide with each other and the various hazards work out throughout. For those hoping and expecting it to be as simple as remembering where to go and how each of the dangers move, think again.
The hazards in each level are a big part of the game and an issue that only ever gets more and more difficult as the game goes on. Some of these include swinging hammers, trucks landing on top of other trucks, or even trucks being fired at you out of massive cannons. There are also giant boulders and lasers, amongst many other weird and wonderful contraptions to keep things interesting throughout.
However, let it be said that those hoping to get to the end of the game will need an incredible amount of patience. Whilst I am certainly no stranger to the platforming genre, Clustertruck is certainly one of the few games sure to test the skills of any avid gamer no matter how many games they have put to the sword. Later levels don’t only require that you land every jump perfectly, but also requires you have a clockwork knowledge of how fast everything moves, as well as needing to know exactly what is about to happen to the other trucks before it happens. There were many times in which I found myself forced to restart over and over just because I wasn’t keeping an eye on my landing, or which trucks were piling up in front of me, and even times I hadn’t moved fast enough. Whilst it may sound simple, if you give it a go, you’ll certainly have an impressively challenging title on your hands.
As with any game that requires you to make split second decisions along with perfect movement to ensure progress, the controls need to be spot on, and after almost finishing the game I can say that the controls in Clustertruck – whilst limited to a few buttons – ensure some of the most responsive platforming out there, even if I did fail time after time.
The other important feature of Clustertruck is the previously mentioned abilities. Whilst not necessarily needed to complete each level, those looking to progress quicker will want to make sure they unlock these as quickly as possible. Unlocking abilities is a simple process; at the end of each level players earn style points for different things such as air time, and tricks performed.
Saving these up enables you to buy the different abilities which range from things such as the invaluable double jump and levitation, to slowing down time and freezing trucks altogether. This is certainly a game changer and those that utilise these best will be the ones finding themselves in a battle with the devil come the end of the game. However, anyone hoping to best that level will need more than just skill on their side. At the time of writing and after several hours of infuriating failure and one more go gameplay, it’s the final level that brings together everything you have learnt throughout the game and throws them all at you in one of the most difficult boss battles I may have ever played – and I finished Ninja Gaiden 2! Whilst there may be many of you out there who will relish the challenge, many others will value that expensive controller a little more.
Overall and whilst Clustertruck may prove one of the most challenging games you will play this year, there is no taking away just how perfectly the game comes together. Whilst it would be nice to see maybe a little more detail in each level, the limited time you will spend with each makes this issue almost irrelevant. With some incredibly responsive and easy to use controls on show throughout, ensuring you only have your skill to blame, and some of the most enjoyable platforming available on offer from start to finish, tinyBuild Games may have created one of the most ingenious yet simple games you will see for some time.