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Cosmos X2 - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Cosmos X2

DSiWare | Saturnine Games | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
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Review
8th October 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

Handheld shooters are always a very interesting experiment. Ever since the release of Thorium Wars, there haven't been many new games from indie developers to try their hand at approaching this genre on DSiWare. Saturnine Games hopes to change all that with Cosmos X2, a slightly-unique game that retains some aspects of classic shooters, whilst also incorporating its own spin. While the concept is pretty solid, your mileage may vary on how you perceive the actual execution.

    Ensign Daverdy has been commissioned to look into the disappearance of the Cosmos X1, a powerful ship that was once used to defend the galaxy against intruding aliens. Now with a powerful force rising towards universal takeover, Ensign takes flight into the next model of the Cosmos to stop them, the Cosmos X2. But you don't care about story, now do you? You want to know how it plays.

    Everything takes place in outer space, where enemies come from multiple directions to try to stop you in your tracks. You control the ship using the Control Pad, using the A Button to fire, and the B Button to activate your shield. This temporary barrier can only be used once you've racked enough energy in the green bars located on the bottom left of the touch screen. Pressing the R Button will send out one of up to 3 different missiles attached to your ship. These travel in a straight line, meaning that you'll need to wait for the right moment to use them. All of these controls can be changed freely under the Options menu, which is a handy little feature.

    The Cosmos X2 essentially has two life gauges, and that's because it comes equipped with two different weapons. And this is where the developers tried to throw in some creativity. Before embarking on your journey across the galaxy, you can set two different types of alignments for your ship's cannon. One of the available options is focused on powerful, yet slow-moving bullets, then there's a homing shot, and a triple-spread shot. The one that you have active also has a bearing on the kind of power your shield will have. This varies between absorbing enemy fire and converting them into energy, repelling shots back at enemy units, or creating explosions around the body of your ship. Finding a style that suits you is crucial if you hope to survive the onslaught of enemies that are to follow as you make progress.

    
When you're actually in the game, you can change between the two different alignments on the fly using the L Button. Interestingly enough, while one is active, any kills you make will go towards recharging the inactive weapon. This results in a welcome sense of strategy where you'll find yourself trying to preserve both for as long as possible, switching out as a weapon loses power. Much like in your typical arcade game, score thresholds determine when upgrades are obtained for your ship. These upgrades not only your set of weaponry, but also your arsenal of missiles, turning them into homing projectiles. To that end, your ship only has one life, so once the energy in both gauges expires, your journey will end.

    As you trek across the galaxy, you'll travel to 6 different levels in total, including the alien homeworld. The enemies you'll encounter vary from world to world. In addition to the typical spacecraft, you'll also have to contend with advanced cobra-like statues, as well as mines and asteroids. When enemies are close to death, a red flash will appear each time they're hit. Some of the tougher enemies have more interesting attack patterns. For example, there is one that fires red orbs. But otherwise, the formations and the standard enemy fire aren't all that exciting.

    The bosses at the end of each level attempt to enhance the experience, by adding challenge and variety. And as a whole, they are pretty enjoyable. But both this set of enemies and the standard units are all subject to a common issue I had with the game. And that is that sometimes it would feel like forever just to land a kill on an enemy. When you're playing on the Easy difficulty, enemies are weaker and don't require as many hits. But as you play on higher difficulty settings, you're forced to put up much more of a fight. This in itself can be frustrating at times.

    
Add to the fact, too, that the game's pace can be hard to get accustomed to. If you play SHMUP's on a regular basis, Cosmos X2 will almost instantly feel slow-paced. The background visuals scroll by at what seems like a snail's pace, with planets and moons taking forever to go off into the vicinity. Plus, there are times where you're given an extended gap where there will be no enemies to fight. The lack of engagement here doesn't do the game any favours, especially when everything else isn't very impressive. And so, the game becomes more of an activity to get through, rather than something you truly enjoy playing.

    Presentation is pretty straight-forward with very little innovation at all. The music in the game feels almost in the style of classic NES games, but with music that resembles MIDI files. While there were one or two levels where the music stood out a bit more, I felt very indifferent towards the audio. The visuals aren't all that great to look at. The sprites are decent, as are the animations, but once you make your way to Ilinid, the alien homeworld, the background colours and images look like they were done up with little care. The layout was nice, but the radar on the bottom screen is pretty much useless, as far as I'm concerned.

    When you first start playing, you'll only have two difficulty settings available for play. But upon clearing the game once, you'll open up three additional modes and perhaps even the Hard difficulty. In 'Boss Rush', you face off against all the troublesome creatures you encountered on your first playthrough going for a fast time. The farther you advance, the more difficult they get. Once again, some bosses take a very long time to finish, especially if that's the only enemy on the screen. This means that there are no opportunities to replenish health or your missile supply, likely leaving you with little motivation to continue all the way through.

    
'Chase' has you pursuing an enemy spy through lots of asteroids, trying to stop them from relaying secret info to the enemy. Because there's a lot going on at once, you feel more involved than when playing normally, which is great. And finally, 'Survival' mode is essentially a simulation where you try to see how long you can last against an endless swarm of enemies. This won't keep your attention for very long. Aside from these additional modes, there's always the idea of improving your best scores to extend the experience. I liked the fact that you had to record your name by writing it in with your stylus. But even with this focus towards accomplishments, you still feel as though the game lacks something to keep players motivated beyond the first few days of purchase.

    Honestly, Cosmos X2 didn't do much for me, personally. I liked the unique weapons system, and the attempts at creating a challenging, replayable experience. But the game isn't all that memorable, and feels a little "been here, done that". I wouldn't call this a bad purchase, so if you're in the mood for some quick, difficult SHMUP action, then give it a shot. There are some enjoyable moments to be had in small doses. But there are issues that some may wrestle with. And so, if you choose to give this a pass, you're not missing out on much.


18/30 - Okay/Average

Gameplay 6/10 - Two different interchangeable weapon systems, different shield systems, pace will be hard to adjust to for hardcore players
Presentation 5/10 - Really mediocre, sprites are decent enough with some variety, simple animations, music is entirely forgettable
Enjoyment 2/5 - Not all that memorable or exciting, can feel very dull in some places, offers something different with an increased focus on strategy 
Extra Content 5/5 - Three different difficulty settings, unlockable modes extend the experience, high scores that even allow you to sign your name

Equivalent to a score of 60% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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