Pwnee Studios' Cloudberry Kingdom makes Mario Party look like a picnic: this infuriating-yet-fun indie platformer uses an AI system that adapts the difficulty level to a players' skill. When you're playing in a group and are not all on the same page, things get messy. And that's exactly what the team at Pwnee wanted.
Cloudberry Kingdom's single-player story mode stars an aged and jaded hero, "think Mario in thirty years" according to Pwnee co-founder Jordan Fisher. He has set out on a quest through various dangerous environments — strewn with platforms and perilous obstacles — in order to rescue a missing princess. Players can customize their hero with different heads, bodies, outfits and other accoutrements, like mustaches and jetpacks, which will affect his abilities.
"It's super-customizable," Fisher said, noting that customization is available both in single and multiplayer. "You can make him fat, you can change his gravity, you can give him more friction. And the game will redesign each level based on his attributes to make this challenging for you."
While there is only co-op multiplayer in Cloudberry Kingdom, the game becomes a competition between players and their environment, a deadly race to the end of a level without being crushed, poked, set on fire or ripped to pieces with a chainsaw blade. Levels move by quickly and are teeming with dangerous objects. Those who jump before they think will find themselves dying repeatedly; but at the same time, players need to move quick, as the screen keeps scrolling even when you stop.
But it's Cloudberry Kingdom's multiplayer where the real fun begins. The Arcade mode includes different submodes. In Escalation, each level gets progressively more difficult until it hits "the point of insanity," Fisher says. Time Crisis, in which players must beat the level in 10 seconds, is a mashup of WarioWare and Tetris, he explained. All of these, according to director of business development Michael Suswal, were designed to be a relentless forward dash, a frantic run for your life across a sea of deathtraps that leave little room to plan ahead.
"We wanted a game that, no matter how good you got, it would always provide a challenge."
"The whole game was built around the AI we created," explained Fisher. "We were tired of just playing Mario and beating it. You speed run the whole game and that's it. The game never gets to the difficulty level you want it to. We wanted a game that, no matter how good you got, it would always provide a challenge."
The AI, which initially started as a math project, was in development for two years before they were ready to apply it to Cloudberry Kingdom.
The game's voice talent is nothing to blush at either: the main character in story mode is voiced by Hercules actor Kevin Sorbo, while the Bowser-like villain is played by Martin Olsen, voice of Marcelene's father Hunson Abadeer on Adventure Time. None of this would have been possible without Ubisoft, who announced last month it would be publishing the title.
Fischer explained that Pwnee Studios approached Ubisoft regarding publication — and by "approached," he means "relentlessly pursued."
"We were at E3 last year and we were running through the back of the Ubisoft booth, up the stairs, just looking for [the executives]," he said. "Security really didn't like us. We got kicked out five times."
But Fisher and his team's efforts seem to have been fruitful. Cloudberry Kingdom will launch early this summer on Wii U, Xbox 360 and Windows P.