HIGH Cool character, cool rocketpack.
LOW Handles as sketchy as a squirrel smoking meth.
WTF I’m supposed to look where while I’m shooting up this wall?
Every once in a while, I come across a game that has a great ideas but fails to develop in a way that’s easily appreciable – something that feels as though the developers made it for themselves, and if someone else comes along for the ride, that’s fine too. I’m not a believer in focus-testing the soul out of a project, but there’s much to be said for communicating concepts clearly and welcoming people in. Considerations have to be made for those who haven’t practiced playing every day for months on end, and Super Cloudbuilt doesn’t feel like a very considerate game.
This indie effort from Coilworks stars a character named Demi, the veteran of some conflict that’s left her body comatose in a hospital bed. While her physical form is out of action, her mind is awake and processing her situation by… strapping on a rocketpack and platforming through abstract levels at near-lightspeed? Don’t think about it too much since the plot has nothing to do with gameplay, and it isn’t an effective tale anyway thanks to a lack of context and voicework that sounds like it was done by a person actually in a coma.
Putting story elements aside (as I’m guessing most will) Super Cloudbuilt features areas comprised of random bits of architecture floating in space with little discernible sense to be made of them. It sort of looks like random clusters of skyscrapers with large chunks missing or blown away, all hanging in the air with nothing below.
Each of these levels asks players to get to an exit at the end by using Demi’s rocketpack and mobility skills to run, wall-run, jump, dash, and scale vertical surfaces. She’s a cool-looking character and watching smooth runs on YouTube is incredibly impressive. Actually playing it? That’s something else.
The first thing that struck me about Super Cloudbuilt is how fast and slippery it feels. With just a nudge on the control stick, Demi shoots forward at a breakneck pace, not so much like she’s running, but more like she’s being shot down a greased track. It took a while for me to come to grips with her movement because her physics are their own thing, and they just don’t feel right.
She also has the strange quality of being as fast as lightning when moving forward, but being oddly sticky and sluggish when climbing walls or leaping from them.
This idiosyncratic movement might have been fine if the levels were designed in a more linear, readable fashion, but they’re incredibly hard to parse. Not only is it hard to get a handle on navigation because the camera’s perspective has a semi-fisheye quality that intensifies as Demi picks up speed, but everything is hard to read in general. I had great difficulty in finding a line through each area, and would frequently have to stop and scan around trying to figure out where I was supposed to go.
This inability to instantly recognize a path feels counter-intuitive for a game which ostensibly wants players to move in a flowing, fast manner. Complicating things, the devs offer several visual filters, but none of them help clarify the level design, and some make it worse. The vaguely cel-shaded design isn’t clean enough, and the color schemes don’t offer enough contrast.
It’s also hard to ignore that game seems at war with itself on a key level — on one hand, Demi is built for speed and all directions point towards moving forward without pause. On the other hand, the levels feel like jumbled garbage, and important pickups are hidden away unless players carefully hunt for them. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother with collectibles, but they unlock powers which make Demi a better, more capable character. Not having them feels like missing out on a lot, but clumsily searching clusters of platforms feels at odds with what Super Cloudbuilt is trying to do.
I also have to mention the checkpoints — while there are a handful in each level, they’re too few and far between, and they’re only triggered if the player finds them. It was common for me to be traveling a line that was apparently not what the developer intended, meaning that I would often never see checkpoints at all. As a way of compensating, it’s possible for a player to set a limited number of their own checkpoints, but these have to be found like items and the player has to remember to use them.
This system seems good in theory, but falling off a ledge can happen in the blink of an eye and there were many times when I made a small error, dropped to my death, and then got sent back a huge distance because I didn’t have any checkpoints to use, had forgotten to put one down, or chose not to use one because I didn’t anticipate trouble. After more than a few frustrating instances of taking a spill and being sent back much further than I cared to replay, I called it good.
I think Demi looks like a cool character and I like the idea of using a rocketpack to dash through platforms in a kinetic flow state, but Super Cloudbuilt is too frustrating and haphazard as an experience. I’m sure the people who made it (and a handful of YouTubers) are really, really good at it, but thanks to a lack of polish and elements that never fit together well, I couldn’t understand what it was trying to be. I’m not sure Coilworks knows either.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Coilworks and published by Double Eleven. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and XBO. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Violence and Language. The violence is Demi shooting some simple robot drones or falling to her death. I don’t recall any salty language. It’s hard as hell but it’s not risqué material.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The spoken dialogue is subtitled and there are no significant audio cues. It’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.