Cosmophony Review – One for Masochists (Vita)

Cosmophony is a music-based rail shooter that was initially released last year for mobile devices, Nintendo’s Wii U and the PlayStation 3 (Europe). A product of developers Moving Player and Bento Studio, it comes as a cross-buy title for PlayStation platforms next week.

Players control the heart of a fallen goddess who failed to maintain harmony in the universe. By attacking enemies and dodging obstacles to clear different levels, they’ll be able to fulfill her destiny. According to the developers, Cosmophony was designed with “experienced gamers” in mind. Consequently, it comes with a considerably high difficulty level that is meant to deliver an intense and extreme arcade experience.

At first glance, Cosmophony reminded me of Rez (2001) and a little bit of SkyRoads (1993), but my actual experience with the game was vastly different, and not necessarily in a good way.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

The idea behind Cosmophony is very simple. All you do is move your little craft right or left around various obstacles while shooting enemies, which are literally just triangles on your screen. The d-pad is the best option for moving your craft, although players can also use analog sticks, and X is used to shoot.

While not impossible to beat, the placement of the obstacles and the pace at which the craft moves makes the game frustratingly challenging to the point that it is unlikely to appeal to a sizeable market. I realize that the developers had “experienced” gamers in mind, but experience has very little to do with how well you do in the game. Sure, it will test your reflexes, but what mainly counts in Cosmophony is practice.

Each level comes with two modes. The aptly titled practice mode allows players to get acquainted with the level and familiarize themselves with the placement of the obstacles and enemies. It includes checkpoints that are quite useful since death is unavoidable. In fact, you’ll die a lot. Once players switch to the “normal” mode, they have to clear the entire level in one go. We’re not required to go out of our way to shoot enemies, but the second players come in contact with an obstacle or enemy, they’ll find themselves at the start of the level regardless of how far they were into it.

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Glutton for Punishment

While the challenge that Cosmophony poses is one of its biggest strengths, it eventually becomes a bête noire owing to the game’s design. Clearing over 90% of a stage and being kicked back to the start repeatedly becomes bothersome since the game demands perfection nailed down to a T, but doesn’t quite nail the musical shooter genre itself.

Firstly, the music has very little (if any) bearing on the gameplay, which is a shame because DJ Salaryman (DnB Arena, RAM records) dropped an awesome drum and bass soundtrack that could have been put to good use. There was a point where I hit the mute button because it was distracting, and I ended up getting through that level with the sound off. Secondly, the shooting elements feel tacked on, and don’t have any impact on the game except for helping perfectionists achieve that 100% that they need to unlock trophies. That said, Cosmophony feels more like a survival game in which you just want to get to the end of a level without dying. Considering the above, there does come a point where it crosses the line between fun and annoyance.

I will stress again that the game isn’t impossible to beat if you spend time practicing. And if you’re taking turns playing with your friends just to see how far you can go, it’s likely to be a really fun and intense experience. Perhaps I’m one of the masochists that I mention in the headline because I derived an odd kind of satisfaction out of clearing levels. I must also admit that despite my gripes with Cosmophony, I went back to the levels that I had already cleared just so I could shoot every single enemy and get four stars on each level. It’s certainly a little addictive once you get the hang of it. Players will get two stars for clearing the practice mode and ensuring that our triangular foes are dead, and another two stars for doing the same thing in the normal mode. Doing so on each level will unlock a trophy.

A Dollar for a Level

I’m personally a sucker for old school difficulty so it wasn’t the challenge that put me off regardless of how aggravated I got each time I died. But it would have helped if Cosmophony was well-balanced, offering players a chance to start off slow and work their way up to nail-biting levels like games from days of yore. However, this could only be possible if the game had a little more to offer than it does. Cosmophony costs five bucks, and literally comes with five levels that you can beat within minutes once you master the practice mode. While the price isn’t an issue especially since it’s a cross-buy title, the game’s length is a disappointment considering its content.

Some might argue that players get to spend more time with Cosmophony than your average $5 title, but that’s a valid argument only if you’re okay with spending majority of your time practicing levels as opposed to playing the actual game. That’s right, majority of your time will be spent practicing rather than playing and if you’ve got the level memorized, it’s going to be a walk in the park. This isn’t to say that you won’t make mistakes in the normal mode, however. There were occasions where I knew exactly what lay ahead and I naturally reacted a little too early in anticipation, causing me to die.

Presentation wise, Cosmophony is fantastic. It’s vibrant and colorful, with a great soundtrack to go with it. I can’t help but think that I’ll enjoy the game a lot more if I’m playing it on a big screen around some friends than I did when playing it alone on the Vita. But unfortunately, the game’s presentation is unable to mask some of its glaring flaws.

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The challenge Cosmophony poses is unlike anything I’ve experienced lately, and that alone makes me want to forgive it for its imperfections. But understandably, not everyone who plays it will feel the same way, and that is unfortunate because the game has potential. In its current state, Cosmophony doesn’t have much to offer to console owners who already have access to a plethora of better indie titles. However, fans of rail shooters might want to give it a go to satisfy their craving.

A review code for Cosmophony was provided by the publisher. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.

  • Really challenging
  • Oddly satisfying
  • Presentation
  • Music
  • Only five levels
  • Shooting is tacked on
  • Music has little bearing on gameplay
  • Doesn't offer much overall