2014 brought us two of the most concise and fun couch games (probably, I guess) in history: TowerFall Ascension and Super Smash Bros Wii U. The former showed us that what’s important is not the size of the maps, the number of weapons or characters, or the graphical fidelity; but rather, how you use your tiny little assets. Simple and accessible; enough to trigger evening-long feuds between friends and siblings. The latter was more of a game for connoisseurs, or rather, true committed Nintendo fanboys who had long ago rejected the existence of a real life outside their Wii Us and sunk tons of hours in perfecting their skills as Pikachu, and wasted money on the not-too-amiable amiibos. Anyhow, these two were both polar opposites of the couch battle arena. One too little, the other too much, good enough on their own.
Everything changed however, only last June, when we received a gift. More than a gift, it was a blessing. A blessing with an infinite number of maps, and machine guns, and swords, and any number of ducks you can imagine. Duck Game is, as of this date, the best battle couch game ever created. This is why, when I first saw Cobalt, my eyes lit up. Another one of these, with a seemingly simplistic control scheme and ample space for situations in which to humiliate your mates. Because that’s what friendship is all about. So I booted it up and… I just couldn’t understand it. I’m pretty young myself, and I’m sure most of my synaptic connections are pretty much intact, but I had trouble getting the hang of the game. It required too much commitment.
I’m aware that this complaint is perhaps a bit strange, but for a 2D platformer/twin-stick shooter, this game is bloody hard to get. This is perhaps one of the main reasons why TowerFall and Duck Game were able to find a cosy nest among my group of friends. They were intuitive, easy to grasp, and with a skill curve that never kept the skilled players too far apart from the newbies. In these games, one shot and you’re dead. A goner. Worm food. This means that a lot of luck is involved, but just enough. What I’m trying to say is that not only are they accessible, but also challenging, and, overall, fair. Cobalt, not so much accessible.
Cobalt’s core gameplay is based around the idea of slowing down time. When you face a shot, or a grenade, or a different type of grenade equally unoriginal, time halts, giving you a chance to shoot back at whatever is about to make a hole in your face. Even better, you can roll and use the top of your head to bounce these projectiles away. This all sounds very nice, but it didn’t work as well as planned. Even though I’m aware that many devoted players are having a blast with this game, for me, everything seemed to go awry. Time didn’t slow down when it had to, and bullets did not always bounce off me. Even having completed the tutorial twice, it all pointed to me not being able to comprehend what’s going on. Even when I jumped and pirouetted my way around enemies, shooting them in the back and clearing off missiles, I was aware that I was being jammy. There was no way I could re-do that because, frankly, I had no idea what I had done.
Cobalt’s multiplayer is pretty straightforward: two teams, go on and kill each other. The main problem is that when you mix all the mechanics above in the same pot, the game becomes unnecessarily and utterly chaotic. You will mistake your character for a different one, and you won’t be sure how to trigger the slow-mo mechanic at the right times. There seemed to be plenty of people doing it, simply not me. The single-player campaign, which carries all these mechanics over, ultimately consists on a series of stages in which you progress by killing all enemies. Again, all progress made was pretty much by chance. Even when I thought I was starting to understand how the game worked, some checkpoints were too hard for my skill. The difficulty spiked just in the second level, and the side missions, like races, were a bit too easy.
That is not to say that Cobalt does not have great moments. The ideas in gameplay are definitely novel and interesting, but as I said, it requires too much practice. Realistically, if you own this game, your friends will not play as much as you will. And there are too many games on Steam to commit yourself to this one long enough to get good at it. If you intend to lie on the couch for an evening drinking beer and killing your friends — virtually, of course —, this game is not the best option. However, if you and your friends have plans like this very often, and are in need of a challenge and a truly tricky game to master, then this may be the one.
If your intention is to play this game on your own, just focusing on the single-player, the charm of the characters and the playful quips made by the characters, this game kind of delivers, as long as you’re also looking for really challenging gameplay. The design of the characters or the world is not particularly remarkable. Cute robots, and mushroom-like creatures, that all they do is shoot at each other and ride tiger-hamsters — which are ugly as fuck. The story never actually grasped me, mainly due to the way it’s told, which felt lifeless and uninteresting. What I’m trying to say is that the single-player campaign, as much as it may appear to some, will not be the main draw of this game. It will be, however, the multiplayer. A challenging and eloquently intricate multiplayer, but treacherous and unnecessarily tricky nonetheless.
Cobalt (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
For a game with such novel and simple mechanics, they're a bit too hard to get to make it a casual battle couch game. The story never grasped me entirely, and although it's mildly enjoyable, it never gets much better than that.