Super CloudBuilt (Xbox One Review)
There’s a particular and familiar rush that gamers receive when they beat a rival’s fastest time in a level, and that rush is multiplied tenfold if the game in question is rather difficult. Super Cloudbuilt conforms to that feeling of haste and exhilaration, with a character whose speed is almost too fast to control but slow enough that it doesn’t put games like F-Zero to shame. However, Super Cloudbuilt markets itself as a speedrunners dream, a free-runners landscape, but I can’t help but feel that important mechanics hold it back from being so.
As you begin, you are nothing more than a mere silhouette, an image of your former self, or someone you could be. It’s not long before we learn that this transparent figure is a young girl named Demi: a girl who has been fatally injured in a prior war, and is now burdened by amnesia (as all good stories start). Resting in a coma, Demi experiences a vivid dreamlike state in which she controls an incorporeal version of herself; a sort of out-of-body experience. Her inner dreamscape is fantastically realised with pencilled artwork visuals and a light cel shaded surface is easily one of Super Cloudbuilt’s positives, magnetizing players to its colorful design.
From here players can explore this dreamscape that has taken shape of the hospital that Demi now resides. As players continue to complete the stages that lie ahead, the hospital expands in numerous directions, unlocking more story and content.
Stages are divided into five separate sections, and each section vaguely represent Demi’s inner emotions and continue to expand and emerge upon completion. Eventually these sections will lead to one of many end-games. For example, if the player was to go down the route of Demi’s ‘acceptance’ of events that transpired before her admittance to hospital, then she awakens bright and cheery, understanding that she’s came to grips with what’s happened. And other endings follow suit in a similar fashion, albeit slightly altered to fit the desired emotion. However, all of these endings are left to interpretation as it is never clearly explained how Demi arrives at these conclusions, as most of the dialog that Demi speaks references past events that the player has had no exposure to, lessening the impact of the message.
At Super Cloudbuilt’s heart, it’s all about speed not story. Stages are constructed in a convoluted yet precise way. Stone pillars and metal constructs float in mid-air to help emphasise that it is in fact a dream. Yet, these constructs are spaced and stretched to perfectly accommodate Demi’s need to parkour her way out of her own subconscious–giving way for multiple routes to her end goal, and providing the player with the freedom and mobility to tackle stages the way they want.
Each stage presents its own hurdles in difficulty, ranging from difficulty level 1 to up to 10; some stages are represented by flashing skulls telling you to back off or you’ll regret it. Thankfully, Demi has the tools to make things easier. Equipped with a thruster pack to hastily navigate and boost her way around these courses, skilled players can make quick work of anything in her way.
Firearms are also an option. Demi has an energy pistol that she can shoot to destroy turrets and blast down energy shields blocking paths. These tools combined are a powerful combo for sprinting to the finish line, but the thruster pack itself teeters on being a hindrance more than a benefit as it relies heavily on fuel to get you soaring. I would often find myself having to stop and regain energy only to continue forward to inevitably stop again, which ruined the ‘free flowing/speedrunner’ vibe; having to pace myself than go full balls to the wall and sprint to the finish line.
Challenges also present themselves when stages are completed and new areas unlock, but these feel random in their selection. Challenges often rely on reserving fuel and using as little resources as possible. They are nothing groundbreaking, but gives a little extra to do once a level has been rinsed of routes, top times and collectables. Ranked Mode and Rush Mode become available once the player completes the first level. Ranked Mode is the online leaderboard for level speedruns and offer rewards in the form of colour palettes and costumes for differing ranks. Rush Mode is the combination of existing levels to create one long marathon for you to leg it through in the fastest time possible. The ultimate challenge for those hardened enough to take them on.
Collectables are another contentious choice in my eyes, especially when they revolve around gaining nothing but extra lives. Lives, I feel, have no place in a game that requires a constant restart process. Trying to get a perfect run can be challenging enough nevermind having to be distracted by a dwindling number in the corner of the screen that will cut your game short. As I mentioned, collectables are left lying around for Demi to pick up, each of which gains her an extra life for her to whittle down. Demi also has the ability to unlock beneficial gear and buffs such as extra placeable checkpoints for when you’re feeling nervous and even extended health for when you’re really taking a beating. These are especially helpful at choke points when you start to feel the tension building and your stress levels rising.
And that is really Super Cloudbuilt in a nutshell. A fast paced rollercoaster ride that has its ups and downs. The main selling point is that of speed, precision, and style. If you’re a fan of quick platformers that have more awe than punch then Super Cloudbuilt is right up your dream-laden alley. With some modes allowing for speedruns to be ranked and others combine levels to make things more challenging. However, that’s not to say those people who wish to take their time and plod along can’t appreciate Super Cloudbuilt too. Its artstyle and vaguely represented story could be enough to win your heart over.