Platformers and first-person shooters are a couple of the most popular genres of all time. Classics of the genres like Mario and Doom have been around for ages, and are still going strong to this day. But sometimes developers will try to blend two genres together to create something new and memorable, and that’s exactly what Floating Island Games attempted with Cloudbase Prime.
Cloudbase Prime originally released on PC back in 2017, but this year the game has made its console debut on the Nintendo Switch. You play as yourself, in a pretty fun example of meta-narrative gaming. You are the new pilot that is controlling a cute little robot, armed with nothing more than a small blaster, and the power to move and shake the earth beneath its feet. While working on a mining station for a gas giant, things start to go horribly wrong, and it’s up to you and your smart-mouthed little robot partner to collect fixbots and escape the collapsing world before things can get even worse.
The story of Cloudbase Prime immediately stands out, and the sarcastic and silly personality of the robots reminds me a lot of games like Portal, though admittedly not quite as humorous. The dialogue is all read using cutesy digitized audio samples, and each fixbot you pick up has their own little quirks when you collect them. It makes the collectables feel a little bit more personal. I didn’t just get a fixbot for a certain level - I saved Felix, and that feels pretty good.
While the plot is enjoyable from start to finish, including a surprisingly well crafted ending that I wouldn’t dare spoil, Cloudbase Prime can’t be talked about without getting into its gameplay. The easiest way to describe Cloudbase Prime would be as a combination of platformer and first person shooter. It's not your traditional platformer; sure, you can jump, but not very high. Your main method of getting around is to take advantage of the ground beneath your feet. The stages are mostly made up of land masses of hexagons that can be raised or lowered to your liking. If you raise a platform you’re standing on, you’ll be launched into the air. However, since the platform you raise is based on what your reticle is aiming at, you have to spend quite a lot of time staring down at your feet. Thankfully, Cloudbase Prime does provide a radar in the upper right corner, so even when you're looking down, you can see if enemies are closing in on you. You can slow your descent while in the air, allowing you to briskly glide to new areas and really take in the environment so you can plan your next move. Raised platforms are used to provide cover against enemy fire, and launch foes into the air to collect fuel that can be converted into special attacks.
In your first run of each level, your job is to collect all the fixbots and make it to a cannon that will take you to the next stage, so Cloudbase Prime doesn’t follow the point A to point B structure of many other platformers. It’s a bit more focused on exploration and collection. Each fixbot you grab acts as a checkpoint that will also fully restore your health, which is nice. There are also score attack levels that remove all the emphasis on exploration and are just about destroying enemies to try and reach a certain score. In many of these stages, I would perch myself on top of a tall platform on the edge and treat it more like a tower defense, just shooting down any enemies that dared to come my way. The main place the combat shines are Cloudbase Prime's boss fights. These fights do a great job of making the platforming elements a bit more high stakes, while giving you a primary target to focus on. Yes, you have to use the combat, but these fights typically felt like some of the best puzzles in this puzzle platformer. Cloudbase Prime could have just been the boss fights, and I’d have been okay with that.
Something I never really got used to in Cloudbase Prime was some of the controls. For example, your left hand is your gun, while your right hand controls your powers. But these are controlled by the right and left shoulder buttons, respectively. To cycle between raising and lowering platforms, you have to click the right analog stick, which never felt comfortable using the Switch's JoyCons. Typically, the main reasons I’d ever want to lower a platform was to try and get it down so I could land on it without falling into the abyss, and to give the game credit, properly executing that kind of maneuver to adjust the land while you're falling is very satisfying.
I’ve only played the Switch version, but I did often find myself thinking “This would probably feel a lot smoother with a mouse and keyboard.” The Switch port of Cloudbase Prime has a gyroscopic control option that I do genuinely recommend using. Sometimes it can get decalibrated, but this is easy enough to fix with the press of a button as three of the face buttons are used to instantly snap your view up, down or forward.
The visuals for Cloudbase Prime are intentionally simplistic, with most things not featuring any sort of textures or graphics that could distract you or confuse players. It’s always pretty obvious what’s what and what something is going to do. Nothing in Cloudbase Prime is too visually exciting, but it all does its job of conveying what it wants to get across. The main thing players are likely to enjoy are the smiling faces found on most of the characters. They have this infectious emoticon wide-mouthed smile that stands out. The sound design, though, leaves something to be desired. I really didn’t like the music or sound effects in this game. They were repetitive and whenever the music just became white noise to me, the hard klunk of getting hit by something snapped it all back.
Overall, Cloudbase Prime does have some great elements to it. The story is memorable, and the boss fights are a fantastic marriage of the two types of gameplay - the combat and the platforming. But the controls of the Switch port never really clicked with me outside of the surprisingly strong gyroscope option. I also think this game would have been much better off if it had put its primary focus into exploration or clever puzzle design rather than focusing so heavily on its repetitive and mediocre combat. I love seeing indie games branching out and making their way onto home consoles, but this particular title is one I spent most of my playtime thinking I’d be enjoying it more if I were playing it with a mouse and keyboard. If I were to recommend this one, it’d be on the PC.
John reviewed Cloudbase Prime on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on Steam.