Review: Cosmic Kites

As Fishmoose Interactive continues to work away on its more ambitious project, the rogue-lite action game Immemorial, the two-man studio has launched its first commercial title Cosmic Kites, a fun helping of vintage arcade gameplay with some interesting modern amenities.

Cosmic Kites is a twist on the classic Snake-like gameplay, in which you control animal spirts in a variety of modes spanning solo play and local couch competition for up to four players. Your chosen animal spirit–there are a bunch of different avatar heads to unlock purely for cosmetic purposes, including a spider, squid/octopus, dragon, horse, boar, moose, and angler fish, among others–automatically moves ever forward, leaving a brightly colored trail in its wake, while a pair of keyboard keys or the shoulder buttons of a controller are used to steer left and right. The glowing trail doubles as a weaponized barrier to damage your enemies, as well as a hazardous wall that you yourself must avoid bumping into. Any contact your animal head makes with any trail is an insta-kill game over. So, you know, don’t do that, alright?

All of the tail-winding gameplay takes place on a cramped single-screen arena, which also features wall wraparound, meaning instead of physical barriers boxing you in all four edges of the field are open to allow you to cross out of the screen and come out on the other side, leaving your tail to stretch across both sides as well. Enemies do this too, so you have to be extra careful when approaching the edge that the coast is clear on the opposite side. Fortunately, a small spot on the perimeter glows red to indicate a proximity warning that you or an enemy is about to pass through.

Upping the stakes further are traps that spawn in–red fleshy spike balls, spinning blades, thorny vine walls that sweep across the whole screen starting from a particular side–and a wide range of power-up items and weapons, which extend tail length, provide a short turbo boost, trigger an area-of-effect time bomb, fire off laser beams and energy bullets, and activate a personal invulnerability shield that also turns your animal head into a deadly battering ram. Enemies, traps, and power-ups don’t just suddenly pop into view, but rather appear with advance warning thanks to circular spawn indicators that start large and shrink in size like a countdown timer so you know for sure when they’ll pop. The pick-ups are also color coded–purple is a projectile, yellow is trail growth, blue is turbo, green is shield, orange is time bomb–which allows for a brief moment of tactical preparation. Pick-ups de-spawn as well if they aren’t grabbed within a short period of time.

Another element of strategy comes from the teleport mechanic, which can be deployed to jump ahead a short distance, allowing you to evade an imminent threat or cover ground more quickly towards a target. The teleport is an inherent ability, but it operates on a cooldown timer, visualized by a glowing effect that sparks on your animal head when it’s recharged. So it’s crucial to keep it charged and find the exact right times to use it.

For such a straightforward game, the mechanics are very well thought out and implemented. The controls feel incredibly smooth and precise, and the gameplay speed hits an ideal pace of tense and energetic without going so fast that a proper level of command becomes compromised. The game really does a fine job teetering on the knife’s edge of easy to learn, hard to master. The look and sound of the game also complements the gameplay nicely. Bright color trails and particles set against largely plain backgrounds add pops of excitement without becoming so flashy that they distract from your visibility. The tempo of the electronic, techno-y soundtrack matches the energy and flow of the gameplay, creating a vibe that makes it so easy to kind of zone into a Zen-like state and lose yourself to just one more try for far longer than you initially intended to play.

These core gameplay principles are applied to a half-dozen unlockable mode types, plus a customizer option that allows you to create matches with specific parameters. For me the clear standout is solo survival, an endless gauntlet through increasingly chaotic waves of enemy and trap spawns. The goal is pure high score hunting, with a point multiplier that builds with each power-up collected and enemy killed, but gradually ticks down as time passes without doing either. Also for solo play is Chaos mode, which is the same as survival, just with an insane number of enemy spawns, as well as the benefit of unlimited teleport cooldown. It’s only a shame that the high score intent of the solo gameplay is lacking proper leaderboards to post and compare top runs against other players.

For players with a competitive streak, the game features four multiplayer modes, each offering a slight variation on last man standing. Local Versus is a straightforward free-for-all battle with standard rules. Slow Creep pairs slower movement speed with fast tail growth, for more of a deliberate and strategic method of Snake warfare. Power-up Madness does exactly what the name suggests: throws a bunch of power-ups onto the play area at a rapid spawn rate to create more of an action-slanted deathmatch battle. And finally there’s Obstacle Course, which introduces trap spawns to the competition.

On the downside, the multiplayer modes only support local play. Cosmic Kites is a small project so I can totally understand the developers lacking the resources to roll out online connectivity, but it’s still just a little disappointing all the same. Or maybe that’s just my bias talking, as I’ve personally always found couch multiplayer better suited to consoles than PC. Four players going at it from a keyboard is hardly ideal, without controllers to help space things out. The developers were thoughtful enough to provide AI bot play, so even without a full slate of friends a fully populated match can still be enjoyed. The AI doesn’t stand in for the friendly rivalry that builds when competing against other live players, but having bots at least prevents the modes from ever becoming irrelevant.

Taking on a simple, classic gameplay style and absolutely nailing it with a fresh, entrancing sense of style, the Swedish indie duo at Fishmoose show that they definitely have some seriously strong game design chops. Cosmic Kites, to my tastes, fare better as a solo survival high-score-em-up, but the multiplayer serves as a fun, albeit fleeting, diversion for quick bouts of Snake-like competition.

BuyIt

Pros:
+ Solo survival is like Snake crack
+ Simple yet deceptively nuanced play mechanics
+ Nice variety of modes
+ Entrancing Zen visuals and music

Cons:
– Local couch multiplayer only
– No leaderboard for solo survival high scores

Game Info:
Platform: PC
Publisher: Fishmoose Interactive
Developer: Fishmoose Interactive
Release Date: 9/7/2017
Genre: Action, Arcade
Players: 1-4 (offline only)

Source: Steam key for Cosmic Kites was provided to VGBlogger.com for review purposes by Fishmoose Interactive.

Buy From: Cosmic Kites is available on Steam for $8.99.

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!