PARKOUR IS HARD, EVEN IN VIDEO GAMES.
Real-world parkour is the kind of thing you only get good at if you’re the type of person who puts years of effort and hard work into one skill, like a piano maestro, or a pro Starcraft player. So, in that sense, Super Cloudbuilt is true to reality. This light speed puzzler will either break you, or you will break it; there is no middle ground.
SUPER CLOUDBUILT LEANS INTO ITS DESIGN CHALLENGES.
If parkour game design gave Super Cloudbuilt lemons, Super Cloudbuilt made them into cocaine. There are a few ways to solve the unforgiving nature of this genre, where a fraction of a millimeter difference could mean a sick wall run or death by pavement. Mirror’s Edge (the first one, duh) made up for frustrating parkour limitations with short intervals between saves [EN: Not if you’re going for achievements], a simplified color scheme with bright red targets with which to interact, and careful level design. Prince of Persia chose to give you the ability to quickly reverse time and try again, along with impressive movement programming and, once again, brilliant level design. When done right, parkour mechanics can suck you into a trance-like flow that makes you feel unstoppable.
On the other hand, there are titles that try to make parkour open-world instead of linear, sacrificing realism and challenge for flow. This often leads to rough edges in the environment that catch you and stop your progress like a truck running into a brick wall. Super Cloudbuilt simply embraces these limitations with the philosophy that unwieldy movement in a confusing environment isn’t frustrating: it’s challenging. Your repeated failure to catch that ledge before you fall to your death isn’t the responsibility of the designers; it’s your responsibility because you’re a noob.
IF IT’S FAST, MAKE IT FASTER. IF IT’S HARD, MAKE IT HARDER.
The introductory level puts you in third-person control of a ghostly, see-through girl in a crumbling ruin. The rubble catches your feet as you try to run past. The environment fights to hold you back. Still, you persist through this most frustrating of tutorials thinking, “I’ll get the hang of this.” The movement is jerky and imprecise – everything seems too sensitive. The wall runs need to be just right, because they are set at the maximum possible distance, and you just have to try over and over until you don’t suck anymore. Finally, you pass through the trial by fire, and the first level starts.
This is where Super Cloudbuilt says, “You know how it was hard to get the angle right when you were running full speed with hair-trigger controls? Well, try it with rockets now.” Strapping rockets to the protagonist’s back makes you feel like a super hero, but your death count goes through the roof.
This has to be a self-aware choice, because there is a rapid respawn mechanic, as well as the ability to place checkpoints wherever you want. But these mechanics only hold your hand through the first level. Afterwards, your respawns are capped at a measly seven.
Once your handful of tries is used up, the game loses its patience with you and kicks you out of the level.
This tough love is all about challenge, whether you like it or not. Reaching the end of a level is the low-hanging fruit. Doing it without taking damage, using your weapon, or several other challenges is the real goal. The designers want you to develop super-human reflexes, as I’m sure many players will, but I will never be among their ranks.
WHEN YOU STOP YELLING FULL-THROATED SWEARS AT YOUR SCREEN AS YOU FLIP IT OFF, YOU NOTICE THAT THE SCENERY LOOKS PRETTY NICE.
Each level is well-designed and distinct (I especially enjoyed the organic aesthetic of one level which incorporates trees), and has a variety of hidden areas and paths to travel. There is a cool, cartoony-yet-computerized feel enhanced by things like cross-hatched lines for shadows on the walls that float high in the air, and if you manage not to die for any stretch of time, you look as cool as you feel.
The story, about a girl named Demi who was injured in a war and therefore needs to retrain her damaged brain, is interesting enough to keep you curious. The voice acting and writing are not outstanding, but neither are these features the main focus. The point is, you don’t know how to use your body, and you need to struggle – and I mean struggle – to learn how to move again. If you can contain your frustration long enough to achieve that goal, the story could not be more appropriate. That’s a big “if,” though…
Super Cloudbuilt has the potential for unlimited playability simply due to the fact that there is always a higher challenge to aim for. The downside to this, however, is a high level of frustration from repeated failure. The visual aesthetic and puzzles are commendable, but the awe doesn’t even register in comparison to the amazement you experience due to your own reflexes and persistence – if you ever actually manage to make progress.