As a synthesized theme greets you, the convex title screen flickers to life. A slight twinge of nostalgia starts to set in. Immediately memories of sitting crossed legged on the bedroom floor playing Nintendo floods my mind. I enjoyed the straightforwardness of the games at that age. You knew what your objective was and you never lost sight of it. Secrets were a schoolyard rumor while codes were never in short supply. The game didn’t waste your time. Cobalt reminds me of games from that era. An 80’s sci-fi pulp inspired story where the strange isn’t strange enough.
An arid distress signal from the lost colony Turnkopia has been picked up by the AI known as Cobalt. It teleports you, a cyborg investigator, to find out the source of the signal. In the case of co-op you get sent down with a partner. What you find out, is the situation is much more complicated than you thought.
Each region you visit has a unique style with the baddies to match. Dirty cities pop with neon signs or frozen tundra that hide old military bases are just a few of the areas. Plenty of secrets lay waiting to be found in each region. Its metroidvania nature lends itself well to both exploration and epic shootouts. Noir as it sounds, everyone either will help you or hurt you in your investigation of the truth.
The boss fights are a detour into the atypical. Where most games are content to toss a damage sponge with a pattern at you. In Cobalt you’re met with an increasingly annoyed AI that loves to hybridize wave based gameplay with hide-and-seek. The fights get convoluted and tedious the deeper into the game you get.
Much like the 80’s games it imitates, you frequently hit steep difficulty spikes in trying to accomplish the tough task of completing the game. The enemies are brutal in their manner of destruction. Many times my run was ended so swiftly I had no clue as to what happened. When all is going as planned you’re air born deflecting bullets while simultaneously crack shooting anyone in your path. All with a slow-motion cinematic flare.
Some of the more frustrating points were learned on the fly. The tutorial doesn’t cover any of the hacking, safe cracking, and lock picking. This wouldn’t be a problem if the procedures were clear in the first place. I would brute force my solutions until I learned the subtleties to successfully solve them. Eventually they proved to be such a hassle that bypassing them altogether was preferred. I knowingly created a gap in my characters finances. Currency that would be used to resupply at stations, shops, and for upgrades negating some of the harsh difficulty.
Cobalt shines brightest in the Arcade. A majority of the games are fairly straightforward. Games such as Team Strike, Deathmatch, and Survival are exactly what you expect. They’re boring when compared to Challenge and Plug Slug. Challenge is actually two different games: Speed and Combat. What makes these two so much fun is they are essentially puzzles based around skill. In both Combat and Speed you are pushed to your twitch limit to reach your objective. The other shining star is Plug Slug, a soccer like game with a twist of firearms for added chaos.
I tried many of the controller presets, none of which had support for the right thumb-stick. Lack of manual aim leaves you at mercy of a sluggish targeting system. Even the rolling auto-aim feels like a throw of the dice. I found the online multiplayer to be absolutely broken. My game crashed back to the home screen at every attempt. This fundamentally locks the Arcade to local matches only. These are disappointments that did not have to happen.
This is the tale of two games. One is a twitch fueled trip into alien worlds. The other is the story of missed opportunities. Both description fit Cobalt perfectly. With as much done right and equally done wrong. In my time with the game it always fell just short of its potential. The fun I was having always felt hampered by punishing gameplay and slow targeting. If you can put up with the odd sensibilities, this could be a worth a try. Overall, Cobalt is middling at best.