One of the things indie games have been phenomenally good at is telling personal stories and finding methods to tell them effectively. This has bled into the mainstream, and I genuinely believe this is for the better. This expands what is considered a story worth telling and, at the same time, the discourse around that story telling.
Cosmic Top Secret is one of those games attempting to broaden the spectrum of storytelling. On the face of it, it is a well put together 3-D platformer with a distinct visual style. The player is a two-dimensional representation of the developer herself, and she walks/rolls/flies through environments and tries to unravel one major question: was my father a spy? There is also some mild puzzle solving involving throwing grenades or trawling through dossiers to unravel small clues.
The game itself flits between pseudo-stop motion animation and lo-fi footage captured by the developer of her parents and her parents’ friends. There is a DIY aesthetic feel to the whole process, like an animated scrapbook, that reminded me of the cutscenes from the underrated Amped 3. I mean this with the highest praise.
The gameplay itself is mainly free roaming through maps looking for ‘intel’, with each level being littered with collectibles. The more items picked up, the more that is revealed about the developer’s father, an affable Danish man that definitely has a bunch of secrets. However, these are secrets that he playfully seems unwilling to share.
The further the player goes to find side items and pick up little hoops, the more videos are unlocked of interactions between the developer and her family. In each of these short films she is pursuing the history of their lives. Her parents seem reticent to share much, while family acquaintances are much more forthcoming.
Most of the conversations are quite run of the mill, with an amusing cadence between the developer and her father. She will poke him, and he will back off, say he has forgotten, or change the subject. Even with that there are still moments where the game has real moments of honesty and intimacy.
One level focuses on a Danish past time – orienteering – and her father loses his paper leg. The player braves the threat of a buzzard to retrieve it, and on recouping it, the developer muses about how her father used to be so strong and how now he is clearly not.
Later, the developer talks about some of the secrets she has kept and this ties into the larger themes of the game. I say ‘larger themes’, but the game’s ultimate message seems to be that things one might obsess over are actually really minor, and that letting go is a better choice. The question of whether the developer’s father was really a spy is answered, but by the time it is revealed no one involved seems that interested.
It is hard to be critical of such a personal story; just because I couldn’t find something to relate to doesn’t mean that others won’t. However, there are mechanical problems with the game.
Moving the character, while simultaneously moving the camera causes the character to get stuck on corners. Jumping is inaccurate which becomes a problem in later stages, and the controls for throwing smoke grenades is unreliable. Each one of these add a veneer of frustration to the otherwise relaxing play.
Cosmic Top Secret is a personal story, with a distinct style, and I couldn’t help but be charmed by a lot of it. At the same time, it was hard to shake off the feeling that this story was not for me. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but it inevitably impacted my review. If ever there was a candidate for abolishing game scores – Cosmic Top Secret is it.
Cosmic Top Secret is a 3D platformer with a unique pulled-from-a-scrapbook look. It is clearly a personal story that I am glad exists, even if I didn’t find it captivating.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.