Cosmo Player Z is a creative, cosplaying take on the arena shooter

I love it when a game takes an established formula and works out a distinctive, creative new twist on it. Such is the case with Cosmo Player Z, a new Switch release from developer Sommit Games and publisher Regista. I was expecting a competent if unremarkable game when I first clapped eyes on it — but after spending just a bit of time playing, it became clear that this game, while rough around the edges, is a real gem that’s worth adding to your library.

If Cosmo Player Z looks a little familiar, it’s because it originated as an iOS game, and was subsequently ported to PC in early 2022. Don’t let its mobile origins put you off, though; while there’s definitely a touch of “mobile port jank” about the game — nothing that can’t be fixed with a patch or two — the core of the gameplay is extremely solid and, as noted, provides an original and interesting take on an established formula.

Cosmo Player Z

In Cosmo Player Z, you take on the role of Yuniko Crawford, a fighter for the Republican army, and subordinate to a rather pervy take on Mega Man’s Dr. Light. It’s up to you to guide Yuniko through a campaign that spans several different planets, take down the cute girl heads of various rebellions, and generally raise a bunch of hell while looking good in the process.

This is not a game where plot matters, mind; the majority of the dialogue in the game is either to introduce new enemy characters or explain game mechanics. The emphasis here is firmly on mechanics, and the game expands in scope as you progress through its many stages.

The basic formula of Cosmo Player Z is that a single planet is split into multiple stages, which in turn are split into 21 substages each. In each substage, which is presented from a top-down perspective, Yuniko must simply eliminate all of the enemies to proceed. Every few substages, there’s an opportunity to heal or get some free upgrades, and the 21st substage features a boss battle against either a giant version of an enemy you’ve previously battled, or a unique enemy to figure out the attack patterns of.

Cosmo Player Z

So far, so straightforward. Where Cosmo Player Z gets interesting is that rather than adopting the twin-stick shooter formula you might expect from this sort of setup, it instead makes use of some rather different mechanical conventions that presumably stemmed from the developer’s desire to make it playable with a single finger on a phone’s touchscreen.

Yuniko shoots automatically, but only when she’s standing still. That means you’ll need to move around to avoid enemies and their projectiles, but specifically stop moving when you want to go on the offensive. Not only that, but her auto-targeting system automatically prioritises the closest enemy, so you’ll need to tactically position yourself if you want to pick off your foes in a specific order — which is often advisable, as some are considerably more dangerous than others.

Upon clearing a substage in Cosmo Player Z, Yuniko obtains gold and experience. If she levels up from the latter, she is able to pick from one of three abilities to use for the rest of the overall stage. These include adding elemental affinities to her basic shot, adding rotating satellites with various elemental affinities, and adding floating “subweapons” that follow her around and attack independently — including while she’s moving. There are also simpler passive increases to things like her maximum health, attack speed and attack power available.

Cosmo Player Z

If this sounds a little “roguelite”-esque, that wouldn’t be a terrible comparison — though there’s no randomly generated stages in Cosmo Player Z. You do start each stage at level 1, though, meaning one run through a stage can be quite different from the next according to the upgrades you pick as you go along — and the upgrades which the game’s internal RNG makes available to you at any given moment.

As you progress through the game, a wider variety of upgrades become available for Yuniko to choose from at each level up, and many of these will combine together to produce more powerful skill combos. For example, if you acquire satellites of all four major elements, the resulting skill combo results in some considerably more powerful rotating rainbow satellites that deal hefty damage and inflict multiple status effects on enemies.

On top of all this, each skill you pick determines the costume that Yuniko wears on her head, body and legs. In order to get the best possible rating for a stage, you need to not only clear it as quickly as possible and taking as little damage as possible, you also need to coordinate her outfit — ideally by ensuring that she clears the whole stage wearing all three parts of the same outfit.

Cosmo Player Z

Thankfully, this task is made a little easier by the individual outfits tending to correspond to the different elemental abilities, but the “fashion” bonus does mean that you might want to think carefully about the order you accept upgrades in, or which upgrades you pick after you’ve assembled a complete outfit.

Sometimes going for the fashion bonus means deliberately passing up on the opportunity to assemble skill combos or acquire particularly powerful abilities — though it’s worth noting that you only need to worry about this if you’re going for the best ratings (and biggest gold bonuses) for each stage. If your sole aim is simply to clear all the stages, you can take whatever approach you see fit.

The gold that you acquire during substages and as a bonus according to your ranking at the end of a complete stage can be used to acquire “traits” on Cosmo Player Z’s skill tree between runs. These are primarily passive bonuses that increase things like attack power, attack speed and defensive abilities, but there are a number of “Special” spaces around the board that unlock new abilities or provide handy upgrades such as the opportunity to start a new run with an upgrade already in place.

Cosmo Player Z

By adding Traits to Yuniko’s abilities, she’ll gradually come to start each new stage of Cosmo Player Z with additional power, which in turn makes it easier to go back to earlier stages and get better ratings. And thus you’ll work your way through the game, clearing stages, unlocking new abilities and growing in strength.

It’s a simple format, but it works extraordinarily well, providing a thoroughly compelling gameplay loop that you’ll want to keep coming back to — or spend several hours in one sitting engaging with, like I did when I first started playing!

There are a few nitpicks, mind, which I suspect mainly relate to the game’s nature as a mobile port. Most notably, one of the main fonts used in the game is heavily artifacted and hard to read on larger displays; it looks a little better in handheld mode, but the game would benefit greatly if it was replaced with a proper high-resolution font.

Cosmo Player Z

Also, and this really is a minor point, but some of Yuniko’s incidental dialogue on the game’s main menu screen is cut off the bottom of a text box, with seemingly no means of scrolling it down. I suspect the scroll function was tied to the touchscreen on the original mobile version, but when playing with a controller on Switch, there are some things Yuniko says that you just won’t see the end of.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter too much, because as previously noted, this is a game where mechanics are king. And those mechanics are very, very solid indeed. So long as you can deal with the low-budget presentation — the game is clearly built almost entirely out of royalty-free assets — there’s a super-fun arena shooter experience to be had here. And, best of all, it doesn’t feel like yet another Vampire Survivors ripoff, as good as many of those are!

Cosmo Player Z is available now for PC via Steam and Nintendo Switch.

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Pete Davison
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