One of the most untapped genres in gaming is the parkour-based platformer. Mirror’s Edge set the bar for what a game focused on movement could be in 2008, and since then, games like Brink and Titanfall have made strides in giving the player maneuverability. But Cloudbuilt is going for something different. It takes the basic ideas of climbing and wall-running to their extremes, resulting in a series of playgrounds that can be tackled any way you want, even if its controls can sometimes get in the way.
You play as a soldier, bed-ridden in a hospital after a fatal attack that has left her the lone survivor of her squad. The coma has left her with her own thoughts and dreams — dreams that send her into the world of Cloudbuilt, where she wields bionic limbs and rocket boosters to conquer obstacle courses. Each level is followed by a continued inner monologue about the nature of these trips to Cloudbuilt, and what it means for her future in the real world. And while some of these self-evaluations seem to beat around the bush for the sake of filler, a good amount do provide valuable insight into her situation.
This is all, of course, a wrapping for what is essentially a game about exploring and learning a level, pathing to maximize your time, and dominating the leaderboards. Cloudbuilt is pure mechanics and repetition. Run up a wall, run out of boost, fall, die. Take a different path, make a wrong jump, fall, die. Every stage is ridden with checkpoints to ease the frustration of repetitive death, but there is a life limit. Maximum life count is increased by one with each stage completed.
“Cloudbuilt is pure mechanics and repetition. Run up a wall, run out of boost, fall, die.”
My single favorite thing about Cloudbuilt is that there is always another way to get where I need to go. There is usually an obvious “A to B to C” path in most levels, but the game’s base mechanics of boost management and wall-running allow for endless flexibility and manipulation of the environment. It’s an exciting freedom, one that is even better when I’m able to shave down my stage time with experimentation.
When Cloudbuilt works, it’s an immensely satisfying experience. Getting that “one great run” where everything just clicks never gets old. But while the stages themselves are supposed to be the primary obstacle, far too often I found myself battling the controls. Especially frustrating is the jumping onto the wall and trying to initiate a horizontal wall-run, but instead running straight up. The player is locked into these movements once they’re made, and with endless drops to death all around, there is no room for error. If the game interprets a movement wrong, it’s already over. Another life wasted because the difference between jumping into a horizontal or vertical run is minuscule.
Cloudbuilt is drop-dead gorgeous. The worlds themselves give a vibe that is simultaneously old and decrepit, yet still so bright and alive. Saturated greens line the playgrounds with plant life, while well-defined cel-shaded outlines make everything visually come together. It’s seriously a treat.
“Cloudbuilt is drop-dead gorgeous, so bright and alive.”
Cloudbuilt is a game predicated on self-arrived perfection. No one should play it wanting a soothing game to sit down and just fall away into, but rather a personal challenge, something to always get better at. It’s a game for speedrunners, plain and simple.
That’s not to say it can’t be enjoyed outside of this context, but it is without doubt who developer Coilworks had in mind for the game’s future. And in that respect, they’ve done pretty well. But it’s not quite there yet. Skill-based games require the game to work the way it is intended, so that all is stripped away besides the player’s input. As long as one of the game’s core mechanics continue to cause more failure than the players themselves, there’s a problem. But regardless, Coilworks has crafted a solid foundation and reinvigorated my excitement for games revolving around fluid movement and finesse.