Game review: Cobalt is not the new Minecraft (but it is good)
Cobalt (XO) – Minecraft this is not

Mojang have a new game out, but this 2D shooter is not necessarily what you’d expect from the makers of Minecraft.

We’re sure it would be easier for everyone involved if Cobalt was marketed as the new game from the creators of Minecraft, but it isn’t. But it is notable for being Minecraft developer Mojang’s first attempt at publishing someone else’s game – in this case fellow Swedish studio Oxeye. The end result is absolutely nothing like Minecraft, and won’t necessarily appeal to the same people, but it’s definitely worth a look anyway.

Although it may look like a generic 2D indie shooter the best point of comparison for Cobalt is probably Max Payne, or any of the other myriad of games obsessed with the late ‘90s fetish for firing guns in slow motion. It does not, we admit, look impressive in either screenshots or videos, but it’s been in development for four years now and that clearly shows in the highly refined controls and action.

The plot, about saving a colony of humans from rogue robots and aliens, is purposefully silly and inconsequential but the game’s story mode is actually a nicely varied mix of platforming, simple puzzles, and shooting. The action moves at a dizzyingly fast pace, as you leap and flip across the landscape – right up until the point where you segue into bullet time and start picking off bad guys in slow motion.

For a dumpy-looking robot, the titular Cobalt is quite the gymnast, but in gameplay terms his wide repartee of jumps, rolls, and slides all have a specific purpose. Spinning in mid-air sends a Catherine wheel of bullets out in every direction, while rolling in mid-air can counter enemy bullets, sending them back to their source like a lightsabre deflecting a laser bolt.

Cobalt (XO) - better than it looks
Cobalt (XO) – better than it looks

Cobalt also has a range of dual purpose defensive moves, include a shield that can also reflect bullets and a particularly versatile parry that allows you to knock grenades out of the air and redirect them either at enemies or for other puzzle-solving purposes. Your momentum is also vitally important, to the point where being at full speed as you begin an encounter is often just as important as what weapons you chose to wield.

The game can seem almost overdesigned at times, with a loot system constantly tempting you into danger, a stealth element, and smaller details such as a Gears Of War style active reload system. The latter is never mentioned in any of the tutorials, and neither is the idea of riding pet animals (and using them as projectiles when you get tired of them). Which is one way to try and ease new players in, but not necessarily the most honest one.

There is an obvious cost for squeezing such a multitude of moves down into one diminutive robot body, and it’s the utter bewilderment of playing the game for the first time. To a newcomer the action can be utterly incomprehensible and uncontrollable. Not to say extremely difficult. Beyond some tutorial-like challenges Cobalt does relatively little to compensate for this, and so becomes a game you have to want to play – rather than you being drawn in by the spectacle or graphics.

Cobalt (XO) - imagine if John Woo made an indie game...
Cobalt (XO) – imagine if John Woo made an indie game…

And you’d have to say that visually the game isn’t terribly interesting, it gets the job done but unlike the gameplay there’s no panache or originality about it. In short it’s no fun to watch Cobalt in action, and in this day and age that may cost it more than any other issue.

As you might imagine the game’s complex systems create quite the entry barrier when trying to indulge in the many multiplayer modes. There’s versions of Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and a Horde-like survival mode but competent human players give you even less margin for error than the computer-controlled ones.

That’s not necessarily a negative though and Cobalt has clearly been designed for people that are tired of being hand-held, and miss the days when playing a video game was about learning and perfecting new skills – not following objective markers. If you miss those times, or simply enjoy a good video game that’s out to test your reflexes and ingenuity instead of your patience, then Cobalt may have been crafted just for you.


In Short: A boldly inventive 2D shooter that asks a lot of its players but rewards them with one of the most versatile action games of recent months.

Pros: A dizzying array of abilities, many with multiple uses that take real skill to use. Cleverly varied story campaign and plenty of multiplayer modes and challenge missions.

Cons: Steep learning curve, where many of the game’s mechanics aren’t properly explained or only hinted at. Dull visual design and impenetrable multiplayer for newcomers.

Score: 8/10

Formats: Xbox One (reviewed), Xbox 360, and PC
Price: £15.99
Publisher: Microsoft Studios/Mojang
Developer: Oxeye Game Studio
Release Date: 2nd February 2016
Age Rating: 12