Reviewed by Josh Brant
If you enjoyed playing 'the floor is lava' as a child, you may have wondered why no one in video games has adopted this concept into an actual digital product.
Taking this idea and melding it with a bit of the fast-paced, first-person platforming of Mirrors Edge (with some quirkiness sprinkled in) developer tinyBuild Games has, in the aptly named Clustertruck, created a game that is unlike anything else you’ve ever played before.
Wheels of Fire
Clustertruck is a platformer at its core, making the player jump from a series of flatbed trucks as they are traveling along a set path. There are all types of different obstacles and hazards that get in the way, as the trucks' erratic driving results in crashes and explosions while you are trying to jump between them in order to reach the goal. At any point, if you fall off the level into the abyss or end up making a collision with the road, you lose the level.
Clustertruck is broken down into eight different worlds with ten levels each, all with varying themes and hazards to negotiate your way through. The levels consist of deserts, forests, and snow worlds, as well as as sci-fi, futuristic, and steampunk settings.
Each world provides different set pieces and themes for each of the levels involved, with the levels' structure matching the world you're in. For example, the sci-fi levels where you have to dodge and manoeuvre through laser fields while jumping between trucks is fascinating. Similarly, the medieval world will have you watching out for flamethrowers, giant compressors, and huge mallets trying to smash down on both you and the trucks.
Cluster's Last Stand
Clustertruck does a great job of adding to these different themes and as soon as you think you’ve mastered one type of gimmick, a new one is introduced. In some levels it’s best to go really fast to finish as quickly as possible, and in others, it’s better to be more methodical and slowly make precision jumps from truck to truck.
After completing a level you’ll get a score based on the tricks you performed by jumping, how much air time you were able to achieve, and how fast you managed to complete the stage. You can then use the points you accrued to purchase abilities.
Some of these abilities include grappling hooks, double-jumps, boosts, levitation, and even the ability to spawn extra trucks. While most of them can be rather helpful, others may put you at a disadvantage depending on the level’s hazards.
Abilities are split into two categories. You can have two abilities equipped at any one time, but only one from each category. Mixing and matching these two abilities can really come in handy and are often the key to completing a level. Changing up which abilites you have equipped can help you overcome a particularly tricky level.
The controls are rather simple, with you being able to move your character with the left analog stick, the camera with the right, jump with the A button, and run with the ZR trigger.
I didn’t really care for the fluidity of your character's movement while running and jumping, and this was compounded by having a hard time adjusting your momentum in midair if you aren’t looking a specific way. You have to move the camera around with your character, which at times can be difficult to do.
Moving forward with the left analog stick, hitting the A button to jump, and then moving to the right stick to try and aim your character onto another truck seemed to be much harder than it needed to be. You can change the sensitivity in the options menu, but the controls still seemed to be too floaty for my liking.
While Clustertruck does have many fun and enjoyable moments, I was surprised at the lack of optimization undertaken for the Switch version. On a few occasions I had to completely close the game in order to reset a failed run, which is somewhat annoying. The framerate wasn't ideal either, with several slowdowns occurring at inopportune times when there was a lot of activity on the screen. It hampered my enjoyment occasionally, but it's something that could be patched rather easily and didn’t break the experience for me.
Truck Be A Lady, Tonight
Skill is definitely required in Clustertruck and you'll have to master the platforming as well as get the hang of perfecting these momentum swings in order to progress through the bulk of the title. Sometimes there will be secrets and shortcuts to discover, but at the same time Clustertruck is very luck based. You will end up restarting a level multiple times and the trucks move in completely different patterns each time. While the trucks are all set to go forward and at certain times throughout a stage, they may end up crashing into one another making it so you have to think on the fly.
When getting to the final stages, I will say I became greatly frustrated in just trying to complete a level that seemed impossible at first glance. Due to the luck nature of some stages, the last few levels became headache inducing and tested my patience greatly. While Clustertruck does provide other abilities for you to unlock, there really isn’t anything else to do once all the stages are completed other than just beating them again for more points. This is the type of title that should appeal to those who are interested in speed running or going after high scores.
Overall, Clustertruck is a fun little indie title that will give you some fun and hilarious moments. Even if you don’t care for intense puzzle platformers, this is a short and sweet experience that you don’t have to take too seriously. Some frustration can occur from the difficulty of some of the later stages, plus the framerate issues and overly slick controls can hinder the enjoyment, but I still did like the concept and execution of the title. If you are looking for a quirky game to show off for some friends, look no further than Clustertruck.
Pros & Cons
+ Simple concept to grasp
+ Fun platforming puzzles to figure out
+ Varied and interesting level design
- Can become immensely frustrating
- Framerate and occasional glitches can hinder enjoyment
- Controls feel slippery and unintuitive at times