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Cloud Cutter

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Developer: Just Two
Release Date: May 5, 2021


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PC Review - 'Cloud Cutter'

by Cody Medellin on Sept. 27, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Cloud Cutter is a fast-paced retro arcade shooter with intense action, stunning graphics and out-of-this-world destruction and mayhem.

PC players who love the classic shoot-'em-up game style are flush with options. From compilations of old arcade shooters to more modern titles like R-Type Final 2, there's something to serve all genre fans. Cloud Cutter is a new title developed by a very small crew that is attempting to fit into that classic shoot-'em-up mold, and it does so pretty well if you aren't looking for an extensive experience.

The story-less campaign consists of 13 stages set in varying environments, from snowcapped mountains to deserts. The enemies are more realistic, such as planes, tanks and turrets. That changes slightly when you go against the bosses, as you'll face behemoth versions of hovercrafts and rotary turrets instead of something more fantastical. The amount of gunfire you'll face is more reasonable, so while there are a number of bullets and missiles to avoid, it feels like that's due to more enemies on-screen and not because a foe is spilling buckets of bullets.

The plane that you pilot isn't anything special, but the mechanics are distinct. For starters, the plane has a health system, so one hit won't kill you. Enemies drop health pick-ups, but the energy they return to your bar is small enough that you can't rely on them to bring you to full health, especially since they only seem to appear once your bar is at the halfway mark and increase in frequency as your health declines. You can also pick up three special weapons that can be activated via a button press, such as a consistent powerful laser, the ability to call a satellite laser attack on three specific target areas, and the ability to slow down time for everyone else for a short while. You only get them once per level, so you treat them like the screen-clearing bombs of other shooters, since you can't rely on them to bail you out.

For the most part, you'll rely on your missiles that are infinite but require a cooldown after every shot. You'll also rely on gunfire, which is not only infinite but automatic, requiring no input from the player to fire. On the one hand, this feels like something you'd see in a phone game, which might feel off-putting. On the other hand, this takes care of finger fatigue, since that's one less button to press. Related to that is the presence of a power-up system that sees you gradually gaining more weapons in the default arsenal to automatically fire when your gun does. More bullets are accompanied by satellite planes, which are accompanied by homing missiles until it's feasible to take on a whole level without firing any other special weapons. What's interesting is that this is all tied to level progression, since going back through previously conquered levels doesn't bring any of the new stuff you've gained in later levels. Also, continuing on a stage doesn't reset the firearms progression, so it doesn't seem that you can avoid getting stronger.

Except for those interesting tidbits, Cloud Cutter is a very run-of-the-mill shooter. What keeps it engaging, aside from the fact that the difficulty ramps up in the last third, is the fact that there's always something to blow up. If enemy planes aren't in the sky, then there are turret emplacements to destroy or tanks to mangle. If those go missing, convoy trucks and trains become targets. Even things that don't pose any danger, such as unarmed buildings and oil pumps, can be destroyed. The game constantly pours out explosion after explosion, which keeps things moving along. There are brief moments where the game stops with the assault. There's an air minefield to maneuver, along with a stealth segment where you need to avoid spotlights. There's even a moment where the perspective changes from a top-down view to one that's behind the plane, and that prevents the action from becoming stale. It also helps that the campaign can be completed in less than two hours, so the whole experience doesn't last long enough to feel like it's dragging.

Beyond the completion of the campaign, Cloud Cutter doesn't offer too much for players to do. The game sports three difficulty levels and different sub-goals to accomplish, like not getting hit or killing all of the enemies in the level, but there's not much impetus to do so if you're not a completionist. Thanks to the lack of unlockables or even a narrative to tease a better ending if you accomplish these sub-tasks or play at higher difficulties, most players will simply play through Normal once and move on to another title. For those who are treating this like an arcade game, there are leaderboards for every level. Only the later ones can feel like anyone has a chance at greatness, since most of the levels have someone who hacked in to take the top spot.

As far as presentation goes, it's quite good overall. The use of Unreal Engine might seem like overkill for a top-down shooter, but that thought quickly goes away once you see the gorgeous environments. Every bit that you see is well detailed, and the inclusion of lighting and shadow effects, from explosions and even weapon fire, is beautiful to see. What's nice is that the game tends to run at a high, steady frame rate, and dips are a rarity. The sound is also good, but you'd be forgiven for thinking that there's no music because it tends to get drowned out by the constant shooting and explosions.

For the most part, Cloud Cutter nails down the basics of the classic shoot-'em-up. The shooting isn't overly complicated, the enemy bullets don't overwhelm the screen, and there's always a moment where something is blowing up. The levels feature a variety of activities, and it feels like it comes in at just the right play length. As long as you provide your own motivation for playing through more than once, you'll enjoy your time with Cloud Cutter.

Score: 7.0/10

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