If the DSiWare service is lacking one thing, it's a compelling multiplayer experience. And if it's missing two things, it's a compelling multiplayer experience and a solid fighter. Cosmo Fighters, the latest from developer Abylight, hopes to kill both those birds with one downloadable stone, and, although it's seriously lacking in personality and inventiveness, it ends up doing a pretty decent job.
Let's be clear about one thing: if you're in the market for a great single player experience, or even a good one, you'd best start looking elsewhere. Though the game does contain a single-player mode, there's a reason why it appears last on the main menu before Help: it's really not what this game is all about. This is, first and foremost, a multiplayer game, which is clearly where the majority of the effort went. Cosmo Fighters provides a very basic one-player experience – as in most fighting games, you square off against a series of increasingly challenging competitors. The difficulty is uneven and at times rather unfair, and the lowest level AI players are at about a seven of ten on the difficulty scale, so it's pretty hard from the start and only gets tougher from there. Overall, the entire scheme utilised here is more than a little flawed.
It's obvious that the rest of the game, however, received a lot more attention. For starters, the developers smartly take advantage of the download play function, which has been criminally underused on the DSiWare service. This allows you to play the game with anyone no more than 65 feet from you with any version of the DS, regardless of whether they've downloaded their own copy. Up to three friends can mooch off of your purchase, making for some genuinely fun four-player matches. There's a surprising amount of options — you can form teams, play free-for-all matches, add in AI members and adjust their difficulty settings, however dubious they may be. Colour us pleasantly surprised, Abylight.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, though, it definitely falls into the category of good, not great. If you've tried out any 2D fighters before, you should have a pretty good idea of what to expect here: you play in a small arena against up to three opponents using a variety of moves, combos and items to take them down. If that doesn't sound particularly original, it's because it isn't; the developers didn't exactly go out of their way to make the game their own aside from using a perspective that's often saved for beat-em-ups – but then again, they didn't do anything to screw up a good formula, either. The core mechanics here are definitely solid: the action is swift, the character animations are just over-the-top enough, and beating up your opponents always feels satisfying.
At a basic level, Cosmo Fighters hit all the right marks, but one big problem with the game is that it simply lacks personality. The four characters you can choose from are your standard anime affair, and although they each look unique on the character select screen, they all use the exact same sprites in-game and utilise the same set of moves and combos. Only the colour of their shirts differs, causing the occasional “wait, which guy am I?” moment during multiplayer battles. The stage selection doesn't help matters either, with only three bland, uninspired arenas from which to choose.
Cosmo Fighters shows some promise with its solid gameplay, but its lack of any kind of charm, personality or innovation makes it a difficult game onto which to latch. If you're looking for some cheap multiplayer fun for your DSi, Cosmo Fighters is definitely worth taking a look at, but the game can only stake its claim as “the best fighter on DSiWare” due to an almost complete lack of competition.