We can’t help but think that a parallel universe exists in which Cosmophony plays a central, cruel role in deciding a person’s fate. In this somewhat dystopian, yet oddly hip and cool universe where drum and bass is the norm, a technocratic regime (made up of original developer, Bento–Studio, and Wii U porting pros, MovingPlayer) determines your right to existence by subjecting you to the task of completing this game or even just a single stage from it. While a tad peculiar, it’s something that could sound like fun until you realise that the failure rate for people who attempt this actually sits at 99.9 per cent.
If the bleak — and thankfully hypothetical — example above somehow didn't already make it abundantly clear then let us say it as plainly as we can: Cosmophony is hard. It’s a game that sits at the harshest, most painfully unforgiving end of the game design spectrum, albeit one which happens to have a flashy modern look and feel layered over the top of it. In a reality where it isn't a life or death decision-making tool, Cosmophony is a real gamer’s game and an absolutely marvellous one at that.
In a nutshell, it can be aptly described as a rhythmic musical shooter. What this actually entails is you guiding the heart of a fallen goddess through psychedelically animated tunnels at an alarming pace while avoiding obstacles, shooting things and listening to drum and bass along the way — don’t worry, we didn't quite get it at first too. The game’s premise is that the universe has collapsed, destroying pretty much everything except for a certain type of electronic music that is inexplicably able to exist beyond existence. This is actually a good thing as you need to depend on the soundtrack if you want to have any hope of restoring the status quo.
The game is spread across five levels, which may not seem like much until you realise that it’s highly unlikely you’ll ever get past the third level. Dodging obstacles is straightforward in theory: you move forward automatically and press left or right on the control stick, D-Pad (or even the shoulder buttons if you fancy yourself as a bit of an outlier) to avoid inconveniently placed walls. The challenge comes from the speed at which you move, which is pretty fast when considering that you’re playing along to a drum and bass soundtrack. There aren't any enemies as such, but you’re able to shoot objects along the way which add to your overall score.
Using the music to plot your movement in Cosmophony is key as the levels are designed around the beat, and although you’re not restricted by it in any way it’s incredibly wise to time your controller inputs to it. Naturally you need to look at the screen too in order to see where you need to go, but the visuals and background rapidly change and distort with the aim of distracting you, hence the need to use the soundtrack as a secondary guide. This wouldn't be so much of a problem if it weren't for the fact that making a single fatal mistake sends you all the way back to the start of the stage. Die 10 times in a row and the goddess whose heart you've commandeered will offer to transform you. However, what she offers isn't an act of kindness that makes the game easier; instead, she simply sends you to the practice mode.
This training feature is in fact worth using, as it makes it easier to learn the layout of each stage. The distracting visuals are replaced with a simple black and white aesthetic, and you can start again from one of many mid-stage checkpoints should you meet your maker courtesy of a wall. A rewind and fast-forward feature allow you to jump between points and get a good feel for particular bits of a stage that are causing issues for you.
In terms of design, Cosmophony is a superb blend of old and new. If you are not a fan of difficult games then this isn't for you, and you should probably avoid it no matter how tempting it looks or sounds. This is currently one of the hardest — if not the hardest — games available on Wii U. For those that like a challenge or have a soft spot for the rock-hard games of old, Cosmophony really hits the spot. The difficulty gradually increases, with the first notable spike coming halfway during the third stage when your movement speed temporarily, albeit suddenly, jumps up. Those without a half-decent sense of rhythm or good reactions may find the game becomes too frustrating as the game progresses.
Cosmophony runs at a solid 60 frames per second, making it feel suitably quick and slick enough to work with the soundtrack. The way in which the audiovisual elements are used to both assist and work against you is particularly noteworthy. If you have a strong aversion to drum and bass music then as with the difficulty this may not be your cup of tea, but the style of the music goes hand-in-hand with the sort of experience the developers are offering.
Cosmophony is not the sort of game that everyone will enjoy, nor was it designed to be. It’s an old-school challenge in terms of difficulty that requires impeccable timing, reaction speed and unwavering concentration on the player’s part. It’s a game that’s visually enticing, and the way in which the graphical elements are used to impact and augment the challenge of the gameplay is both unusual and exciting. It may seem like there isn't much on offer in terms of the number of stages or modes, but there’s a good chance you’ll never even reach the end without putting a serious amount of time and practice into each stage. With a relatively small asking price and a unique premise, Cosmophony is a game that should at least be experienced by anyone who rates gameplay above all other aspects.