Video games that sell themselves as being ‘parkour’ themed are kitschy things, especially when they want you to know they’re a parkour game. The first Mirror’s Edge was a critical success thanks to this distinction after all. Since then the only games to really take the reins have been light parkour/zombie brawler, Dying Light, and Mirror’s Edge Catalyst, the latter of which succeeded in being wholly underwhelming. Double Eleven’s latest, Super Cloudbuilt, a remake of the original from 2014, bills itself as a 3D parkour platformer and surprisingly lives up to that title while being loads of fun.
Platform Heavy, Story Light
In Super Cloudbuilt, you play as Demi, a wounded soldier who awakens out-of-body in a strange world constructed from floating platforms and structures suspended high above the world. From here, you traverse various levels trying to uncover the mystery of why you’re there and how you ended up comatose in a hospital bed.
The story is very light and doesn’t feel wholly necessary. The narrative is told by an internal monologue at the end of each stage where Demi ponders her existence, never for more than a minute or two at a time. The stages themselves are meant to represent Demi’s unconscious journey as she grows stronger and overcomes obstacles to regain consciousness. The levels themselves are even based on hospital rooms with intimidating blast doors serving as breaks between each one. This is a fine concept if it were more fleshed out, but it mostly feels like a justification for having the hospital as a level hub. I’d have been perfectly happy with just a level select menu, hopping from world to world in a more streamlined fashion, especially as the hub itself doesn’t offer any more substance or secrets than you see at face value.
Super Cloudbuilt is a game that lives and dies on mechanics and level design. A fast paced platformer that requires a lot of quick precise platforming maneuvers to reach your end goal.. You use the shoulder buttons to activate Demi’s abilities. The left side of the controller lets you jump, double jump, wall run and speed boost, while the right controls your gun, charge shot and bombs. Which helps with dealing with the various enemies that get in your way. While exploring the worlds you are also tasked with finding four chips and a hidden key, each of which will unlock a locker at the level end that will give you various items and extend your number of lives.
Jump Boost Jump Boost
Platforming works well and is exhilarating. You can play in a more reserved fashion, taking time to collect yourself and making each jump count. Or you can go full speed ahead, blasting from one wall to the next in a heated frenzy that will often result in death but prove much more rewarding. The controls feel comfortable once you get adjusted to them, and completing a successful run feels immensely rewarding. To help you along, various checkpoints are scattered throughout each map, as well as custom checkpoints that you can drop wherever and respawn to instantly with the push of a button. Each of the platforming challenges are well designed, never outside the realm of possibility even when they heighten in difficulty. You’ll ascend spiraling walls while blasting objects out of your path, only to lobby yourself through a series of wall jumps and land on a giant slide that spits you out into a minefield while turrets blast away at you. It can get overwhelming in its intensity, but it is always enjoyable. There’s also a strong arcade feel to Super Cloudbuilt that gives it a very rewarding ‘one more time’ itch, making you try again and again until you finally break through.
Combat is light but fits well. Turrets are the most common enemy, joined by some ground crawling robots as well as some incredibly annoying flying shielded foes who will fly into you and explode unless you get away. There are no bosses or super enemies, and the battles themselves are more like obstacles. Most baddies can be disposed of with a few shots and are scattered enough to not be a nuisance, but as levels get harder, there are some nail-biting moments that require you to evade shot after shot while never stopping for fear of falling to your death. Sure you can try to blast all of the enemies themselves, but with no added incentive system outside of you not having to deal with them once they’re dead, evasion can be the easier tactic.
When things get tough, Super Cloudbuilt does provide some power-ups. These items range from boosts in health and jump pack charge to super weapons and slowing down time. It took a while to figure out that I should absolutely be using them and once I did, it made the very difficult sections of the later levels a lot more bearable. Slowing time in particular almost makes things too easy, but is wholly welcome after about sixty nonstop deaths trying to run one gauntlet. The only issue is that the items are one time uses for one stage. You can use them as many times as you’d like for the level, but once you’ve won, you’ll need to rely on a different item to complete the next stage.
Losing items was a bummer because one thing that would be really great in Super Cloudbuilt would be a bigger sense of character progression. Outside of extra lives, Demi never really gains any new abilities or buffs, making it so the only in game character development you see is from you actually getting better as a player. While it’s nice to be forced to improve your skills, building out Demi as you prefer would make the game more personally rewarding. I didn’t want my time slower to go away. I loved it and will sadly never see it again. Never…
Test Your Mettle
The game does work to keep you coming back. Once you complete a level, you can go back and play it again with various challenges, ranging from not using your weapons, dying in one hit, or using only a set amount of boost. These can make even the easiest levels infinitely harder and really put your skills to the test. Conserving boost is particularly maddening. There are also two extra modes—Ranked and Rushed. Ranked allows you to place your best score in varying challenges on a leaderboard, and Rushed is filled with sprints and gauntlets that will make you truly appreciate how bad you are at the game.
Another cool part of Super Cloudbuilt is its graphical options. If you go into the menu, it gives you a variety of display options from wireframes and colored pencil to painted and vibrant. Each of these adds some entertaining art options and allows you to play the game as you’d like to see it. The graphics are always cartoony and not the flashiest, but they fit well with the world and are never something you think about as the environments are well crafted and colorful.
There aren’t too many downsides to Super Cloudbuilt as a whole. One super frustrating part was what seemed to be a glitch with the chip system. After spending a half hour or so scouring a level for every chip and the level key, backtracking numerous times, I finally found it and volleyed myself towards the finish, only to be told that I hadn’t found the chips so couldn’t open the reward locker. This happened several times and was always disheartening. Since I was playing on a review copy of the game, it’s entirely possible that this is a bug that will be fixed in the future, but nonetheless, it was an aggravating endeavor resulting in a lot of wasted time.
The lack of direction that the game gives can also be a killjoy, but it eventually becomes part of how the game works. As you enter each level, it stretches before you, and it’s up to you how you’d like to progress. Since you’re searching for a total of five tiny objects in a relatively massive space, which can be overwhelming, resulting in many pointless side quests to the top of a floating block in the distance that has no seeming purpose other than being a floating block in the distance. The freedom of exploration really requires you to adopt an attitude of exploration over the more lateral attitude that the game is really designed around. It’s fine once you adjust your expectations, but it is still sad to wonder what could have happened if the two ideas fit better.
Super Cloudbuilt is an enjoyable and fast paced adventure that can be as tough as you let it be. With hours of platforming and seemingly endless challenges to augment the story mode, the game does a surprising job of never feeling stale or overbearing. It’s slick and stylish, and it feels really great to play once you get the hang of the mechanics. With very limited downsides, it’s definitely a game we plan on returning to whenever we need a high-velocity fix among the clouds.