What would you get if you mixed the speed of Sonic with the blaster-infused platforming of Mega Man in a 3D environment? You’d have Swedish indie studio Coilworks‘ fast-paced creation, Cloudbuilt.
I recently got my hands on Cloudbuilt, a build that was roughly 80% complete, and it made a hell of a first impression. Let’s start by defining exactly what Cloudbuilt is. That’s harder than it sounds because the game is rather unique and incorporates several game types into its core mechanics. One way to describe it is as a blend of the parkour style platforming of Mirror’s Edge and Prince of Persia with the break-neck speeds similar to F-Zero wrapped up in a suited female protagonist akin to Samus Aran. Is the picture starting to take shape yet? The game revolves around recently injured war veteran, Demi, who is currently undergoing mental rehabilitation. It is in her mind that these levels take place as she slowly recovers and leads the player toward one of four endings.
Before we even dive into the meat of the game, there’s one thing that must be said: Cloudbuilt is gorgeous. The art style is vibrant, lively and overall attractive. Hand-sketched cel-shading with a hint of anime flair is the best way I can put it. Just take a look at the screenshots contained on this page and you’ll see what I mean. The aesthetic appeal of Cloudbuilt alone is enough to pull you in at first, wondering what could possibly await you in these beautiful environments. Once it grabs a hold of you, you’ll learn that it has the brains as well as the beauty.
Cloudbuilt is all about speed and precision. It’s a game that falls perfectly in to the “easy to pick up, difficulty to master” category. The objective in each level is to race to the end, using a variety of techniques to reach the goal in a timely manner. Demi can slide, double jump, dash, wall run (both vertically and horizontally) and boost throughout the scattered platforms contained within each environment. All of this was taught through a brief tutorial that detailed basic maneuvers and navigation. Once past this introductory section, I had to rely heavily on my reflexes, split-second decision making and a lot of trial and error to achieve favorable results. The reason for this is because there is typically more than one path that leads to the end in Cloudbuilt. Strategy is a huge part of the game, and ultimately what led to the trial and error as I attempted to figure out what worked best.
Getting those top times (okay, they weren’t “top” times, but I felt good about them) came down to thoughtful use of the boost mechanic. This is the game’s bread and butter. Boost can be used to gain that extra height needed to leap over one of the game’s handful of robotic enemies or push upward toward a ledge on a vertical wall. The most interesting, and important, use of boosting is when wall-running. While dashing sideways across the wall, the position of Demi can be altered by using boost. Holding boost will raise her position on the wall whereas pressing nothing will cause her to drop. A steady tap of the boost can help maintain a straight line across a wall. It sounds simple enough, but when enemies and the need to jump between walls from time to time are thrown in, this mechanic becomes imperative to executing smooth serpentine patterns. And whenever I was able to flawlessly dodge obstacles in these scenarios, it provided one of the most rewarding experiences, even if I had to restart at a previous checkpoint several times before nailing it.
Sadly, boost isn’t limitless. A majority of the actions I mentioned require boost, which depletes a bar at the bottom of the screen when used. The bar will refill over time by itself, but this can tack on crucial seconds when trying to maintain a steady speed till the finish line. I was forced to consider which paths allowed me to space out my use of boost so that I wouldn’t find myself standing still for a second waiting for it to recharge. Some paths even included small energy pick-ups that instantly refilled the boost gauge, making these highly sought after routes. It’ll be interesting to see how players tackle these levels and what navigational choices are made by those sitting at the top of the leaderboards.
I’ve discussed boosting at length, but there’s one other important feature to discuss: the main weapon. Fortunately for Cloudbuilt’s heroine, she’s not completely defenseless. Demi is equipped with a cannon blaster on her arm, a solid piece of weaponry for destroying or stunning bots. Gaps, walls and other harmless obstructions were not the only thing I had to worry about. Bots littered each environment, some of which fired explosive projectiles and others that could stun me by ramming me. The lower end metallic enemies, such as the purple mines commonly found on walls, could be destroyed by firing upon them. A charged shot was even capable of taking out a small group of them if they were clustered close enough together. Other enemies proved more resilient. The turrets firing horizontal lines of missiles could only be temporarily stunned, providing a small windows of safety before they come back online. Mixing this element into the game had me performing several actions at once. For example, I found myself wall-running and boosting to move Demi above an obstacle all while firing at an enemy waiting on the platform at the end of the wall. It may sound a bit overwhelming, but I must say it comes together so well once you get the hang of it.
My only real gripe at this point is the awkward keyboard layout. WASD control the directional movement, Shift activates boost and Space is for jumping. Those are fine. It’s the use of CTRL to let go of ledges that feels a bit out of place and could definitely benefit from swapping the action to a new key. While the game was designed around the keyboard, the developer has stated that controller support will be coming to Cloudbuilt, easing a wider variety of players into the game. Overall, this jet pack-fueled parkour title has already got me hooked, even in its unfinished state, and I have a feeling many of you will be, too, when it releases next month.