If looks were everything, Cosmic Leap would be getting a stratospheric review score, and Donald Trump wouldn’t be president. Unfortunately, despite Cosmic Leap‘s endearing voxel graphics and cutesy pop-culture references, this simple little platformer won’t be blasting off much further than the digital bargain bin.
In Cosmic Leap, the player controls a little cubular man in what is most accurately described as some sort of galactic Ninja Warrior-type gameshow. In a galaxy ruled by an (evil?) emperor, you are one of a few contestants tasked with traversing the Cosmic Leap courses, each filled with coins to collect, a rocketship to reach, and a clock to beat. Each of your platforms are in fact tiny planets, each of which have their own weak gravitational pull (think Super Mario Galaxy). Equipped with a double jump, you can break free of a planet’s pull and leap onto the next planet, but only if you have enough momentum. Therefore you’ll find yourself running around and around these planets trying to get up steam, often avoiding obstacles, enemies, and missiles, while you do it.
Unfortunately, as any platformer veteran will know, to enjoy a platformer the controls have to be really, really tight. With Cosmic Leap this is simply not the case. A controller is recommended, but after using both a controller and keyboard I can say that the controls aren’t good enough with either. The essential problem is that you’re not really controlling “left” or “right” as is the case in most traditional platformers, but in fact “clockwise” and “anti-clockwise” using left and right inputs. This may not seem an issue at first, but when you stop your character at a 90 degree angle on a planet, which way is “left” going to take you, clockwise or anti-clockwise?
So many times I wanted to avoid a simple obstacle and ended up comically running straight into said obstacle despite having all the time in the world to avoid it, simply because I couldn’t tell which way the controls were going to take me. The developer has taken in feedback on the controls and added a “simple input” mode that can be chosen over the “rotational input” mode, but after playing with both inputs the controls still don’t feel tight enough or intuitive enough to play as skillfully as you would wish.
Despite the (almost game-ruining) control issues, Cosmic Leap does boast an excellent art style. A slightly less than 45-degree viewing angle shows off the colourful voxel planets, surrounded by various debris, UFOs, space-billboards and the odd passing ship. The backgrounds are all delightfully cartoonish nebulas, and for a game that has fairly limited assets, each level feels quite unique. There is even an optional “TV effect” filter that can be applied to the game to give the impression that you’re watching the “contest” through an actual CRT television set. In terms of unlockables, there are 40 different characters to unlock and nine different rocketships, many of which play off cheerfully off-brand parodies of popular culture figures, such as a certain mach-speed hedgehog dubbed “Blue Blur” and an “Interplanetary Mercenary Van” that probably transports some sort of alphabetically designated team.
Level design in Cosmic Leap is a mixed bag, although it’s more due to the control issues than lack of thought. Most levels are mixed up by throwing in some patrolling enemies, forcefields that need to be brought down by running over a button on another planet, mind-bending portals, and the odd meteor shower. Often getting to the end (the rocketship) is fairly simple, but it’s collecting all the coins and unlocking the Cosmic levels that provide the real challenge. With 50 normal levels and 50 bizarro-versions of them, there’s enough content here to give anyone enough to do for a while, even if it’s just working out why the controls don’t do what you want them to do.
All in all, Cosmic Leap could have been an excellent little game with a timeless and endearing art style and solid platforming levels. Unfortunately the controls just haven’t allowed the game to get off the launchpad, and unless you’re one of those few people whose brains are esoteric enough to handle them, you’re more than likely going to want to Cosmic Leap off a bridge by the first few levels. On the plus side, the game is very, very cheap!