I’m a big fan of a good rogue-like. Starting over but making little bits of progress every time is a fun concept to me, it allows a game to slowly add mechanics making each playthrough unique and increasingly interesting every time. With its lack of save points, difficulty, randomized events and pacing playing Cloud Chasers feels a lot like playing a rogue-like but without any of that progression seen in the genre.
From looking at the main menu alone, the sand-scape and music give an air of desperation with the hints of hope that a great soundtrack can portray effortlessly (think Dark Souls Firelink Shrine ). The menu also shows the games mobile roots with its large buttons and NO QUIT GAME BUTTON!!! Alt-F4ing out of games feels like something you do out of anger or fear (thanks Alien Isolation).
Playing the tutorial you get a sense of how simple the gameplay is; click to move, click the button in the corner to scout ahead, visit locations that pop up for dialogues and choices then move your character to the next town. Dotted over the fairly linear left-to-right map are the titular clouds that Amelia, the daughter, has to glide through to collect water from. When you get to these clouds you can click on the button that appears to initiate the more active game mechanic. You use the A and S key to pitch left and right to fly through clouds and collect water for your reserves.
The gameplay here is simple enough, though in some of the later levels the difficulty ramps up with the addition of wind currents, drones, and turrets firing at you constantly. It’s made all the more difficult by how janky the controls can be at times and the fact that an impact with one of the drones can bump you away potentially into other obstacles which has ended a few of my playthroughs prematurely. It sometimes feels like more of a chore than a challenge as water is not only how you survive in the game but also the currency for healing the characters and buying glider repairs and items.
What Cloud Chasers does do well is its story and its characters. The narrative is fed to you in the form of the events that happen throughout traveling in the overworld view. Each location that pops up gives you a story and an option when visited. There’s a charm to the interactions between the father and daughter that drives the player to progress if only to find out what happens to them in the end. The premise of the game is to find the safe haven above the clouds with infinite water, and I found myself wanting to move forward, to give these likable characters their happy ending.
My first stab at the game ended a little abruptly when I came faced with an event which required my saving Amelia from a snake. At this point in the game I didn’t have the required items to prevent such an attack, so Amelia ended up being bitten. This gave her a sick debuff which gradually lowered her health and ultimately resulting in her death. At first, I felt a little bad that I couldn’t save her, but then I realized the game was working against me. Why I’d come across an event which required items I hadn’t acquired yet is beyond me, and this wasn’t the only time it happened either. This left me feeling like an encounter like this could happen at any given moment and felt completely unbalanced.
My second playthrough went a little better. I had managed to get to the first town with minimal damage to the characters however this time it was the controls for the glider minigame that screwed me. While trying to gather as much water from the cloud as I could I was dodging and weaving through turret fire and failed to notice the drone in front of me. Upon impact, it propelled me into a cliff and after having taken damage previously Amelia didn’t have enough HP to survive both impacts and died in the air. You start off with stationary drones, not doing much in the way of threatening you but just being a hindrance, doing damage if you impact them in the first level.
The game quickly ramps up the difficulty in the second level with more drones, turrets firing at you and wind currents making the awkward glider movement seem almost uncontrollable as you try to bob and weave the turret fire and cliffsides. It was a little too much too fast for me. There wasn’t much chance to get used to new obstacles when they throw so many at you at once and in a game with no save points it’s too much of a difficulty curve. Especially when the glider parts of the game are so essential in the progression, water being both your means of survival and trade goods in the towns.
The biggest complaint I had with the game is its speed. Games like FTL do the same thing as this game with the fact that, at a glance, you are simply moving yourself to the next event in between more demanding mini-games but because of how fast-paced FTL is it never feels like a chore to start all over again, you click on the next sector and you’re there ready for the next event.
In Cloud Chasers, character movement starts off at a dawdle which feels like it’s taking forever to traverse the shortest distances between events. There may not be that much time between them but because you have to start over and over and over again when you die it feels like it drags the game to a plodding grind a lot of the time, a grind that trumps the need progress the story.
Cloud Chasers is a game that has the potential to be an amazing experience but is hampered by mechanics that seem to act simply as a means to pad out the experience. The imbalance of the game’s events means you’ll die randomly without warning so you’ll have to start again, the same goes for the glider mini-games with its random difficulty spikes and clunky controls.