Cobalt is a game about a roly-poly robot capable of stunning acrobatic feats, and while it bafflingly hides crucial information about this from the player, there’s the possibility here of extremely advanced levels of play. I probably won’t ever achieve it, but I can see that it’s there.
As the titular Agent Cobalt, players can embark on a lengthy and challenging single player campaign, centered on collecting six shards needed to decipher an ancient AI discovered on a distant human colony, which has made all the robots on the planet hostile. As stories go, it’s pretty standard ‘90s platformer stuff, although the game plays its cards very close to the vest and refuses to dole out much in the way of information about what’s happening or what your goal is at any given time. Levels are light Metroidvania style, and Cobalt will have to find switches and keys in order to progress through the various stages.
Things get interesting when it comes to the moveset Cobalt has from the outset: You can slide, double-jump, roll to deflect bullets, and combo moves to reach greater heights or get the drop on enemies. These are combined with three kinds of weapons – melee, throwables, and ranged – and together they create a pretty impressive palette of platform action.
Enemies drop “loot” and various new weapons, and you can return to your orbiting ship via checkpoints in the levels in order to upgrade your equipment or talk to the computer and file reports on what you’ve been up to. There’s a shy, self-aware sense of humor that runs through the game, and at points I couldn’t help but laugh at points where the game’s systems collided with its refusal to explain anything in surprisingly delightful ways. In an early level, I found a shop and bought a throwable item, thinking it was some kind of grenade. Leaving the shop, I was attacked by several enemies and a hamster the size of a bear. The hamster set about destroying my enemies and in a panic, I tossed out my supposed grenade, which wound up being a healing item. The hamster was caught in its cloud and became tame.
“You shall be Bert,” my character said. Climbing astride the majestic hamster, I set out with Bert across the hostile wilderness.
Our journey was short-lived, because the “roll” command (left trigger) becomes “dismount” while you’re riding a creature. I accidentally flung myself off of Bert, and he dove headlong into an enemy grenade.
“I shall miss you Bert,” Agent Cobalt said sadly, as I leapt over another grenade.
Adorable and agile as Cobalt is, though, these unintuitive controls are a big hurdle to enjoying the single-player game. Even when you do get a handle on them, they’re unreliable and mushy – Cobalt’s double-jump in particular feels anemic and unpredictable. There’s an auto-aim function, which is done by pushing up or down on the left stick, but it’s never quite clear when it’s going to kick in, or if the weapon you have equipped will have sufficient range when it does.
The game also suffers from bad readability in general. It’s tough to know what’s happening on the screen, and which entities are enemies, pickups, or background set dressing. These combined to make the single player campaign extremely frustrating for me, so much that I abandoned it after a couple levels.
Fortunately, though, there’s lots more Cobalt where that came from. Local and online multiplayer is much clearer, faster, and more fun. There’s a team deathmatch mode that plays out with the frantic pace of Duck Game. There’s a “plug slam” (capture the flag) mode, and tons of individual challenges, as well as a fully-featured level editor and an integrated browser for user-created levels.
Cobalt could definitely use a bit more documentation or a more fleshed-out tutorial to explain the many systems it throws at you from the outset, and the gameplay never feels as tight as, say, Super Meat Boy, but it’s full of its own weird, clunky charm and certainly has a high skill ceiling for those interested in mastering it. Imagine R2-D2 in Mark of the Ninja – that’s Cobalt.
Cobalt was developed by Oxeye Game Studio in association with Fatshark, and published by Mojang and Microsoft Game Studios. It’s available for the PC, Xbox One, and Xbox 360. It was released February 2, 2016, for an MSRP of $19.99 USD. A review copy was provided by the publisher.