One thing's for sure. Cosmophony doesn't take any prisoners. I feel like I'm smashing my face against a brick wall of hardcore difficulty. Which is weird, because when I first started playing this game, I thought it was going to be easy. No such chance. Cosmophony is an ass-kicker, and requires absolutely killer reflexes and a top-notch memory to be able to beat it.
What is this beast of a game? Well, it's a music rhythm rail shooter set to an absolutely terrific drum and bass soundtrack from French producer, DJ Salaryman. The player takes control of a ship and guides it down a seven-lane wireframe tunnel that's filled with geometric shapes. Some can be shot, while most objects have to be avoided. Simple, eh?
Well, conceptually it is. But in practice, it's an intense exercise in guiding your ship through a hazard-packed tunnel at speed, where gaps are often tighter than the proverbial duck's behind. Lightning fast reflexes are required for sure, but also a good memory for movement cues. The game moves at a very fast clip, and more often than not, you need to memorize the sequences of objects so you can successfully navigate them. Relying solely on hand-to-eye coordination just won't do – especially on later levels when the difficulty gets dialed up to joypad-flingingly frustrating levels.
Fortunately, the game has a practice mode that lets you endlessly loop through portions of a level until you're ready to tackle it proper. This helpful mode gives you unlimited lives, and has you flying along a grayed-out tunnel with none of the background distractions that you have in Normal mode. It's nicely designed in that when you crash into an object, the game takes you back to the last gate you passed – there's one at every 10% increment along the length of the tunnel – allowing you to practice the more tricky parts of the level repeatedly at a fast pace until you get it right.
Once you're ready to play a level all the way through, switch to Normal mode and off you'll go in full color. The action matches the drum and bass beats perfectly, and it's very well executed. So much so that for most sections you can use the music as the cue for the movements required to navigate the hazard-packed tunnel. On the third level in particular, there are some perfectly sequenced moments where you're flying through a series of tight lanes and the music builds brilliantly as you progress. Later in the same level a backspin effect stutters the screen, requiring some very high-speed reflexes to successfully navigate the section. Get it right, and movement and music combine perfectly in a way that you can distinctly feel. Get it wrong, and you really do know it. Not just because your ship smashes into something – but because the timing just doesn't feel right.
Where things start getting tough is the fact that in Normal mode, you only have one life. Basically, you have to make the run through the tunnel perfectly to finish it. Doing so unlocks the next level: failure sees you stuck. While this is probably a necessity to stop you from blitzing through the game's rather meager five levels, it does get rather frustrating when you become stuck on a level – which is inevitable when you consider the excessive difficulty of the latter levels. It'd be nice to switch things up and be able to tackle any level, if only to change up the soundtrack. However, the game is not designed that way, so all you can do is keep practicing and hope that you'll eventually negotiate the level successfully.
It's that design obstinacy that essentially polarizes the game into something that you'll either love or hate. Or, in my case, start off loving and then ultimately hate for being so damn hard. I really want to finish the game, but it's exceptionally difficult at the top level, and I simply can't quite move my fingers quickly enough to clear it – despite a lot of practice. I'm sure that those who specialize in hardcore games, and have a great memory and lightning-fast fingers will probably get a real kick out of this, knowing that they're one of an elite few who are able to get through this highly exacting, demanding game – assuming they can. But those mortals who aren't quite so quick on the trigger, while you'll probably have fun for a few hours with this, it'll inevitably bog down by level four or five into something that will eventually frustrate you more than it entertains.
With a few more levels, and a less vertical difficulty level, I think Cosmophony would have been an exceptionally fun game – the way its great drum and bass soundtrack combines with the gameplay does work really well. But that's unfortunately not quite the case. As it stands, it's really enjoyable for a while, but ultimately, it's a little too short, and gets way too tough to be worth thoroughly recommending… unless you absolutely relish the idea of the challenge I've outlined above.
Functional menus: nothing out of the ordinary.
Only five levels, but the last couple require a high degree of skill to beat.
Excellent drum and bass soundtrack. Shame there are only five tracks, though.
Decent: simplistic wireframe tunnel, with abstract videos playing in the background.
A great concept that's well executed in terms of the way it combines music and movement. It's certainly fun, but the game is short, and its difficulty level is very steep indeed.