Speed isn’t a factor in video games as much as it used to be.
I still find it incredibly hilarious that the infamous Doomguy barrelled through Doom 1 at a speed faster than Usain Bolt, and then Doom 3 happened. And all that disappeared in favour of making System Shock but with Cacodemons. Even when a game centres itself around speed, it’s not really about speed. Mirror’s Edge sort of proves this, as Faith will sprint across rooftops, but the methodical first-person platforming kills that pace faster than she falls to the ground. It’s a good thing then, that Super Cloudbuilt is here to kick the senses into overdrive.
The subject on the chopping block today comes to us from Coilworks, a Swedish developer who’ve decided to remaster the 2014 PC release of Cloudbuilt by “re-evaluating the game from the base mechanics up.” A noble effort for sure, but I personally didn’t play the original release, as my computer currently has a hard time trying to boot up Undertale without sounding like it’s going to blast a hole in the earth. So it’s great that this was released on consoles, since now I want to see this idea branch out further.
You play as Demi, a feisty but collected soldier who wakes up in the scrapbook of Bionic Commando ’08 wondering how she came to be in such a mysterious area. Upon further inspection, she discovers her comatose self and pieces together that she must jump through metaphorical hoops and such in order to regain conciousness and return to her former self. One of your main gadgets to navigate through the broken down world is the boosters from Vanquish turned up to 11.
Right, I am going to say this with no hyperbole, this is currently The Fastest Game I Have Ever Played™. Even before you grab your gear and soldier on, Demi moves at a speed that would make even Sonic The Hedgehog wither in shame. You pick up speed immediately and you dart around the map, zipping through areas like Overwatchs Tracer on Red Bull. Instantly, it reminds me of the failed speed-running platformer Deadcore, but with some things done better.
For one, it has an identity. It doesn’t feel like a half-rushed idea to promote some dull idea they had in a weekend and spitballed something in Unity. Cloudbuilt might install the same environmental design that plagued Deadcore, like the floating platforms in an unknown world without context, but it has a style and an aesthetic that it’s comfortable with and sticks with it, even allowing you to customize it to a varied degree. Yes, it’s just a visual filter, but it’s a nice touch that adds flavour.
For two, the platforming is tighter. Demi sticks to ledges and controls pretty smoothly, she starts and stops in a pinch and the arbitrary combat that’s attached to the game isn’t a nightmare like in Deadcore since the third person view makes obstacle foresight a lot easier. You’re not sitting there wondering where the clipping cubes are booping you from. Although, Cloudbuilt have the edge mainly because of an extremely in depth control editor.
The level design encourages the speed-running factor more than anything. It’s all floating debris, sure, but the pathways you can take aren’t extremely specific. There are multiple routes that can vary into a mixture of speed and complexity, and when you twirl around walls and ledges like a cyberpunk ballerina, it ends up becoming incredibly satisfying.
The combat of Deadcore is also in this as well, but it isn’t as nearly a pain due to the fact that the shots don’t have to be precise sniping. Demis gun will heat seek the targets, making sure that you don’t have to combine the skills to a measurable degree of failure. So, if anything, Super Cloudbuilt is a much better speedruner than Deadcore. Then again, Sonic ’06 was a more enjoyable time than Deadcore, and I will stand my ground on that statement until the earth hollows and dies.
After a while, I was about halfway through and it was still trundling along, manic and active like a six year old with a bag of Skittles. But soon, the skill ceiling ramped up, a lot more of the advanced techniques started popping up, and soon, you’ll be pulling off boost jump dash wall running grenade jump super speed craziness. And trying to wrap my head around it was a nightmare.
There was one level in particular, “Desperation”, that threw me off guard. This one was a virtual smorgasbord of different tactics coming together to form a beautifully executed pattern of destruction, precision and Mach 1 speed. And admittedly, I was stumped for a bit. My fingers cramped slightly and the redundant lives system that this game employs were niggling at my brain for a while. But as a wise man once said, “Anger doesn’t break you, anger gets shit done.”
So I grabbed my super fast playlist, which consisted of the Initial D soundtrack with some Crush 40 for good measure, gulped a coffee in one, and soon, I was in sync to the games beat. Frolicking through the barren landscape with fire in my steps and fury in my soul, I made sure to blitz the courses, picking the most efficient routes and shaving seconds off my records every time. Really, it sort of reminded me of 2D Sonic The Hedgehog but implemented on a 3D plane. And it reminded me of the fun that they produced.
Super Cloudbuilt doesn’t pump out the same amount of enjoyment that SEGAs mascot used to make, but for a while, it was a watered down version that was more than acceptable. Hell, it was more enjoyable than the mess of Sonic ’06, Unleashed and Boom would and could ever be. It does suffer from the same issues that those three victims did, but not nearly to the same extent, thanks to the aforementioned customizable controls.
There’s not really any bonus content, besides a challenge mode which sucks the pacing out for the most part, especially in the One Shot mode. In this, you take any form of minute or massive damage and you die, back to the checkpoint you last activated, meaning you have to plan your movements which won’t work due to the fact that you can’t snipe enemies from afar until you enter their aggro range. You can keep replaying the story stages though, which I more than recommend.
In the end, I came out of Super Cloudbuilt with a smile on my face. It suffers from a lack of polish in some areas, but what it has going for it exceeds expectations. Gritty visual design, free flowing combat and platforming that will feel like a rush of adrenaline, and a replay value which is more than serviceable make this game a surprise blast of joy to play.
So kudos to Coilworks for possibly achieving their goal of upgrading Cloudbuilt, because Super Cloudbuilt is the biggest surprise of 2017, thus far.
An adrenaline rush with a gritty aesthetic that also manages to be a solid speedrunning title.