I apologize for that header. That makes it sound like I’m trying to sell you Crunch Berries, and I wouldn’t do that to you. I like you too much to subject you to the soggy, disgustingly awful tasting balls of misery that comes in a box of that cereal.Cloudberry-Kingdom

Seriously, guys? “Oops! All Berries?” Way to make my gag reflex throw its hand in the air and say, “I give up!”

But I do want to sell you on “Cloudberry Kingdom” because I think it’s one of the best platformers that I’ve played in a while.

There is a catch… it’s also one of the most difficult.

Jumping right into it, “Cloudberry Kingdom” pulls no punches. It’s a game designed to be as hard as a game can be and to be as intimidating as possible when you first lay eyes on it. You’ll experience some reticence when you first start up the game and the demo screen pops up, showing the computer tackling ridiculously complex levels. You’ll find yourself thinking, “There is absolutely NO WAY that’s possible.”

Here’s the thing; while you may never able to go that far and do things that are as ridiculous as what you’re seeing there, just take comfort in the fact that this game has procedurally generated levels, so you’ll never see that exact level! No, you’ll probably end up getting something harder, but that’s okay too and I’ll get into why later.

On the game’s main menu, you’ll have access to three main game modes: Arcade, Story, and Freeplay. Arcade is where the real meat of the game lies. All of the delicious, tender, perfectly fat-speckled meat. Story takes you through 6 chapters, each forty levels long, with a malicious and blood vessel popping bonus chapter that unlocks after you’ve beaten it. Then you have Freeplay, which is the hippie mode. You’re free to do, literally, whatever you want in here. It’s essentially a toy box for the game, where you’re free to mess with all of the game’s copious amount of stuff.

Story Mode makes a nice introduction to the game. You have a knight, Bob – voiced by Kevin Sorbo – a bad guy, and a princess. You’re out to stop the bad guy from doing bad stuff. Through all of this, everyone is spitting out the absolute worst 80’s action movie one-liners I’ve ever heard. It’s almost embarrassing… almost. It ends up being kind of charming. Anyways, you don’t spend much time with the story. You get a small scene at the start of every chapter and then you’re thrown into the shit for forty levels.

"I told that melon farmer I'd berry him! Courtesy of VideoGamer.com

“I told that melon farmer I’d berry him!”
Courtesy of VideoGamer.com

This is the only mode where the stages aren’t procedurally generated. So, it makes a nice way to see how good you actually are at the game and to see where your skill level may lie. Being able to compare and say, “Hey, I was able to make it to level 116 before throwing my console in a fire,” is useful. Well, it’s until your friend says they made it to level 175, then you immediately regret quitting.

You’re not going to quit, though. The thought won’t even form in your mind. That’s because “Cloudberry Kingdom” has the same addictive properties that lie within heroin. This isn’t a “Just One More” game, it’s a “Just Ten More” game. It’s one that will have you trying for half an hour to beat one stage, and when you FINALLY succeed, you’re immediately thrust into another, so you may as well give it a go. I mean, it already started.

Story Mode scales up incredibly well, too. Which is why it’s a great jumping off point. Once you’ve beaten story mode, which may not even be possible for many players, you’ll feel a lot more confident about your abilities to guide brave Bob through the game’s burning, barbed wire hurdles. I know this, because I’m probably brimming with hubris about my skill after beating it.

That’s because, despite the game’s ludicrous difficulty, it’s completely fair. Every stage is beatable. It has to be, the game’s programming won’t ALLOW an unbeatable stage. These weren’t levels designed by a person, they’re designed by a computer and while they may lack the soul that comes from a really well designed platformer, it has other things it excels in, like flattery.

Yes, this game flatters you like no game I’ve ever played before. It will, almost immediately, make you feel like a platforming demi-god. You’ll find yourself completing the most insane challenges without even thinking about it. Once you get into the rhythm of this game and learn how it works, you’ll realize that while it may look tough, have a deep gruff voice, and wear leather covered in spikes, that there is just a big softie underneath the scary exterior.

OK, not sure if that analogy works, but what I mean is that most of what you see is all show. It’s meant to intimidate you. A lot of stages can be completed through blind faith. Run forward as fast as you can, jump when you’re supposed to, and trust that all of the obstacles will be out of your way. A lot of the time, you’ll have a clear path.

Don't you worry about the lava, fireball flippers, and lasers! It's just window dressing to keep away casuals

Don’t you worry about the lava, fireball flippers, and lasers! It’s just window dressing to keep away casuals

That’s what I mean when I say that the game flatters you. You’ll plow your way, often mindlessly, through tasks that look impossible. Screens filled with obstacles and you just made it look effortless. You’ll walk away feeling full of yourself, feeling confident, feeling good.

The game doesn’t patronize you, though. It does this without you even realizing it. It WANTS you to feel confident, because there is going to be a REAL challenge soon and it doesn’t want you to quit when get to it. It wants you to think that you’re fully capable of tackling it. “Come on, I’ve done some ridiculous stuff to get to this point. I’m not going to let this ONE stage take me down!”

That’s… that’s brilliant. It’s a game that slowly builds up a player’s skill and confidence without making them feel like the game is dumbing things down for them. It does things with a subtle touch and encourages the player to persevere in ways that a lot of games fail to do. For a game that’s this hard, that’s exactly what you want.

With similar micro-platformers – games with short but very focused stages – like “Super Meat Boy” and “N+”, they just punish you and punish you and punish you until you get it right or you erupt in a fit of burning hot rage. “Cloudberry Kingdom” eases you in but makes you feel like you’re already equipped for the obstacles that lie ahead. It gives you an ego boost, and while that normally may be a bad thing, it’s PERFECT for a game like this. If you think you’re better than you actually are, you’ll play more and probably succeed more.

It produces its own placebo effect… and it actually works.