Let’s… Sorta… Talk About Cosmic Spacehead

cosmic front

OK, like, this is sooooo rad, man. It’s trippy and crazy, You’re crazy. This is crazy. Oh wow, man, you’re catching my vibe. No stress, man, just WOW. I mean, everything’s so totally cosmic and spacey, it’s like… yeah man.

And if you think I’m high, I have just brought into the disturbingly scripted world of Cosmic Spacehead. Formerly known as Linus Spacehead’s Cosmic Crusade – but clearly changed for GOOD REASON – this was originally a NES game before obtaining a new lease of life on the Mega Drive (and the Master System and Game Gear but we don’t talk about those). Now before I go any further, I have to explain that I have nothing but respect for Codemasters and the games they put out in that era of gaming. They ALWAYS managed to create games that were just great fun to play. Besides, they gave us Micro Machines 2 and I’m all for that.

But here’s the thing: Cosmic Spacehead is just plain weird… and not always in a good way. It is… for want of a better term… mostly pants. If you’re not aware of that term, it basically means it’s not great. But it’s hard to pinpoint why it’s not great. It’s a mixture of the laboriousness of it all and the fact that it doesn’t really know what it wants to be as a game. Is it an adventure? Yes. Is it point and click? Definitely. Is it action-based? Well… yes… Is it puzzle-based? Yes.

BUT WHICH IS IT?

LOOK. IT’S NOT A PIGEONHOLE TYPE OF GAME. If you have to put a gun to my head, I would call it POINT AND CLICK PLATFORMER. And you will hear no other choices from me. It’s too difficult to pinpoint. You can’t make me.

Well you could but I don’t want to. Fuck it. It’s hard enough to get my head around this game half of the time. I can’t imagine what I had to do as a kid.

This, people of the internet, is a car boot sale purchase. I had heard of it and I had seen it before and knew what I was getting myself into. I knew that it was an unusual game, particularly in terms of content because… I mean look at the fucking box art.

cosmic cover

What kind of game is this shit supposed to be? It’s fucking crazy, that’s what it is.

cosmic cover 2

What’s even going on here? Why does he have a camera? Is he a photographer? Why does he look like a superhero? IS HE CLARK KENT IN IDIOT FORM?

comsic cover 1

AND WHERE IS THERE AN ALIEN WITH A BALLOON?! Is he an alien? He’s got one eye. This doesn’t seem completely legit to me, guys… I’m concerned. Should I be? I’m not sure I’m ready for all of this.

And as it turns out, no one is because the game literally plonks you in the middle of Old Lino Town and… that’s it. You’re left to your own devices in game without any real hint as to what to do. Yeah, OK, you could read the instruction manual, because that is kinda what it’s there for, but there’s no actual context given to you in the game until a character actually ASKS you what you’re going to do. Apparently, you want to discover Earth.

cosmic 2

Do you want to tell him or shall I?

Also, why are you shouting your dialogue now? You’ve spent the entire game talking in LOWER CASE and NOW you choose to shout everything like it’s the most exciting thing ever? Or is it because you’re in a car and it’s loud? Either way, STOP SHOUTING (ironic joke is ironic).

So basically, Cosmic wants to go to Earth to prove it exists. That is kinda the whole story in a nutshell. To do this, he must actually get some method of transportation to get there. That appears to be the main problem seeing as he doesn’t have a driving licence and actually when he gets one, he buys it from a man who seriously looks shady as FUCK. And he sells you it for 50 bucks. In fact, everything is ridiculously expensive and Cosmic makes a habit of complaining about it all. WELL IF YOU WORKED FOR A LIVING, MAYBE YOU’D HAVE SOME MONEY, YA WHINY BASTARD.

cosmic 5

Anyway, in terms of actually getting into the game, you are presented with a fairly simple interface for point and clicking. You can use things, pick up things, talk to people (or things if you wanna do that), give things and look at them, which is essentially the most pointless of all of the actions as all it does is give you boring unimportant subtext but JUST ONCE does it officially become useful. Either way. It’s simple enough. You have an arrow that you can skirt around the screen with to perform said actions and if you press the action button somewhere on the screen, Cosmic follows it. Simple enough.

And that wouldn’t be a problem at all if you were actually allowed to… you know… do things.

This game is monumentally linear in that you can only use an item in one way. There’s no thought behind most of it and any use of independent ‘I wonder’-ing is met with stern resistance. So you found a dollar, eh? You want to use it on the photo booth to take your picture, eh? NO YOU CANNOT DO THIS, THERE ARE BETTER THINGS TO DO WITH IT – the game even SAYS this to you. You want to use that dollar on the vending machine? NO, YOU WILL NOT USE IT ON THAT EITHER.

So… I could use my dollar on something sensible that makes logical sense, right? Oh… wait. I suppose if this is the ONLY dollar I’m going to get – PROBLEM NUMBER ONE: WHY IS THERE ONLY ONE DOLLAR AVAILABLE TO YOU FOR THIS PURPOSE? Could there not have been a way of getting money so that you can… y’know… buy the photos or use the vending machine?

I suppose then, if this is the only dollar the game is going to give me… I better use it in that gambling machine over there!

cosmic money

Oh well. Would you look at that? It worked. So now I have 50 bucks to play with.

But here’s the thing that makes it so linear. I know I’m going to need more money than this. I have to buy things that cost money and then when I need to get this driving licence, that’ll cost me 50 bucks. But where do I get more money from?

cosmic money

OH WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT. 50 MORE BUCKS. (After a few goes, I might add)

The fact that this is the only way to get money, and you WILL definitely win the money you’re expected to win, makes the challenge of actually completing your task a bit redundant. You might as well just give me the money to start with. Although saying that, ‘I suppose you’re going to complete the game anyway, you might as well see the ending’ is the counter-argument to that one. But still. Bugbear.

When moving from location to location, you are presented with an action stage.cosmic 10

It’s a simple side-scrolling platform jumpy-jump thing where the idea is to get from A to B without dying. If you hit an enemy, you’re sent back to the location you began in. It’s simple enough but some of the jumps can be a bit treacherous. You DO have to learn the pattern of the enemies as well, but that’s par for the course. I’d be vaguely annoyed if you didn’t think you had to do that. That’s just common gaming sense. You don’t assume that an enemy will do the thing that you want it to do (like run away or fade away) – expect them to blow up, jump about, float in random directions… just watch and see and you’ll find it’s a lot easier. Gaming lesson #101 learnt. Let’s move on.

Luckily, the action stages are varied enough that you do come across a wider variety of locales and enemies to saunter past. Plus you can collect candy bars to earn extra lives – 10 will grant you a 1up… and yet here’s where we could have earnt the extra money too! I mean… opportunity lost, Codies, damn you – and you will eventually need them as the jumps do get a bit mean and some of them land you on platforms you can’t escape from.

cosmic 6

These ones blow up and send four random shards of DEATH in any direction they choose – albeit slowly.

cosmic 1

And these levels closer to the end feature all kinds of gravity shifts, blindness effects and lack of floors.

However, once you’ve got past them, you’ve got past them. You don’t need to redo them again. You can happily traverse backwards and forwards between places once you’re done and dusted with the action stage in between them. It’s probably a good idea otherwise you’d probably get a bit more frustrated with the game but the fact that they are there breaks up what is essentially a fairly tedious, vapid adventure game.

And therein lies the rest of the problem. There is no real antagonist, no sense of danger, almost no real purpose to it mainly because the story in the game is so ambiguous from the off. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to play. Some of the segments in the game, the action stages, can be genuinely fun and challenging. It’s just that it doesn’t feel like there’s any reason TO play it. When you complete it, you don’t feel particularly satisfied that you did. You sorta have this ‘is that it?’ reaction that is so monumentally underwhelming that it’s almost off-putting.

cosmic 3

I mean… where does THIS come from? You find a locked room full of workers and you have NO idea where they’re there or even that there was any inkling of them being in there… it just happens. There’s no reason for you to have found them. You just do. The whole game has that accidental feel as if it expects you to not be surprised by what happens next. It doesn’t feel anywhere near as logical as the developers think it should. Yeah, the final puzzle is MUCH more logical but that feel forced because it’s as if they remembered that they COULD be logical. It’s a totally different way of completing a section that you’ll have come across beforehand and it jumps at you out of the blue. The rest of the game’s puzzles are much more… straightforward. Sort of. I mean, a lot of them are found by the usual trial and error – which won’t lead to any deaths or problems because there aren’t any. This isn’t Broken Sword. I mean at one point you give a helium balloon to a one-eyed monst- OHHHHHHHH.

comsic cover 1

Got it.

But still. Why? Why is THAT likely to help? It send him flying into the sky out of your way but… really? A balloon?

Seriously. This is like baby’s first point and click.

And then there’s the dialogue in the game. The interaction with everything is quite interesting for the most part and you do get some reasonably witty lines occasionally. But it’s difficult to tell if the writers are being genuinely serious with you or whether they’re being sarcastic and dry. Couple of key moments:

cosmic 8

OH HO HO HO. SEX JOKE. Sort of.

cosmic 4

OH HO HO HO. SILLY PLAYER IS SILLY JOKE.

cosmic 9

OH HO HO HO. CAPTAIN OBVIOUS JOKE.

cosmic 7

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT… YOU HAVE ALL THE INGREDIENTS TO MAKE A BOMB SO THEY WILL GIVE THE FINAL THING TO HELP YOU MAKE THAT BOMB!? THE FUCK, GAME? THE ACTUAL FUCK?! Seriously, this is all very… yeah. It’s attempting to be tongue in cheek but doesn’t the whole concept of making a bomb seem very out of place in a game where you’re essentially… ER… NOT MAKING BOMBS? Also, how irresponsible of the lost property office to just say “you have the rest of the ingredients to make a bomb, HAVE THIS THING THAT WILL MAKE IT EVEN MORE BOMBY” because that always happens. Cheese and biscuits…

What I’m attempting to say through my bizarre ranting is that there IS fun to be had here. The problem is it’s difficult to really pinpoint where or why. It’s not dreadful by any means and if anything, I applaud the developers to trying to make an unusual game like this. If it was going to be a series of games, they set it up to be a child-friendly one. It was way too safe and illogical to be exciting. It was too linear to be challenging. And that dialogue…

Ayaiyai…

Right. I’m off to the post office to get my rifle. I have all the bullets so obviously I’ll be allowed one.

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