I use the descriptor ‘charm’ quite a bit when it comes to my reviews. It’s hard not to, there are so many great indie games filled with charm! For me, Injecting some real fun and witty personality into a game can go a long way. I’m happy to report that Cobalt Coredoes just that.
Oh, and it’s also a roguelike deckbuilder!
The new title from Rocket Rat Games takes some key inspiration from other awesome sci-fi titles and brings them into a time loop story and deckbuilder like never before. Whether it be the surge of hilarious personalities, backstory, or the core mechanics themselves, you’re rewarded with discovery at every turn. Cobalt Core is an awesome game!
Let’s Do The Time Loop Again
Going into any roguelike game I’m always curious how and why your title characters are “stuck” or needing to “escape” their repetitive reality. Cobalt Core doesn’t try too hard to prove itself on the surface, as you’re a crew aboard a spaceship that’s stuck in some sort of dimensional time loop.
You’re trying to break that circle. That’s pretty much the crux of this sci-fi tale.
What’s great is how this story is fleshed out. Each time you successfully complete a run or when you bump into certain characters, you’ll be fed with a bit of backstory. Interactions between each character are funny, interesting, and rewarding; even if a little too brief at times.
Cobalt Core Is a Great Addition to the Genre
At this point, you might be thinking, “Cards, ships, turn-based combat… I’ve seen this all before.” In some ways you’d be correct, but in its how it’s executed that makes Cobalt Corea top-notch entry into the genre.
The core…of Cobalt Core… feels like a great mix of two of the very best turn-based, pixelated, roguelike indies out there: FTL Faster Than Light and Into the Breach. Sure, neither game involves cards or deckbuilding, but that’s why this title successfully stands on its own.
You begin choosing one of several ships (just one to start, the others are unlocked through certain conditions along your replays) and a crew. Each member has their own deck of cards that consist of active and passive abilities. They can add shields, weapon damage, movement, and dozens of others that help you manipulate the battlefield.
There are over 200 cards, six ships, and six crewmembers to use throughout the entirety of the game (I have yet to unlock all of these). With this amount of variability, even heading into a new loop with the same ship and crew, no attempt felt like the last. I never felt like I was playing the same loop and was never bored. A complete run took me anywhere between 45 minutes to an hour. A standard amount of time for a game like this, but also a stretch that flew by because I was having so much fun.
Each battle consists of randomly generated enemies with different ships, abilities, and capabilities. Many will have effective counters to your loadout and will take some serious adjustments to come out on top. Luckily, no turn is cut short by a timer. Sometimes I took several minutes to decide how to use the hand I was drawn on that particular turn.
There’s a great sense of tension in some of the later battles, as they become more complex and harder to deal with. Massive ships and entities will fill the screen. Some will dash around to different corners of the screen to avoid getting hit by your attacks, while others are all about brute force.
What’s wonderful about this is that I felt like sometimes I was battling a mirror image of my build or one I had made in the past. A couple of times I even found myself learning from an enemy ship that ended my run, by trying to create a deck similar to what they had used to defeat me moments ago.
The replayability factor that Rocket Rat Games is selling is front and centre. There are hundreds of cards with split upgrade paths you can acquire along the way. Just like Into the Breach,Cobalt Core will likely become one of those games where I’ll only be able to successfully complete a handful of runs on higher difficulties. But that won’t stop me, I’ll still be excited to come back for dozens and dozens of more hours.
I checked my Switch playtime of Into the Breach. Over the last five years, I’ve played over 130 hours on that device alone. I’ve enjoyed each and every one of them. I have a distinct feeling that Cobalt Core will be one of those games going forward.
Full of Personality
I mentioned the charm and personality of the game right off the top, and that’s really evident in each interaction. Whether you’re heading out with Dizzy, Isaac, Drake, or your Cat.exe companion, the dialogue is amazing. I had such a great time seeing each and every one of them banter about weapons, spare parts, some characters’ powers and abilities, and just for good measure, cookies! Some of my favourite moments of the game came from these smaller, character-based screens.
Cobalt Core is really funny. I loved every single line that was written. Some of the conversations felt short-lived, but it also gave it a short-but-sweet approach that actually left me wanting more. It can come from the descriptions of the cards you playing, your charming but deadly enemies, friendlies giving you a helping hand, and of course your crewmates getting to know each other.
On top of that, that game looks and sounds great. The FTL Faster Than Light soundtrack is iconic for many gamers out there and for me, Cobalt Core is bringing tunes that are just as special. With ear-pleasing sci-fi sounds and tones, the music creates a perfectly fun and sometimes intense atmosphere that goes a long way in a turn-based, deck-building universe.
Pixelated graphics can be hit-and-miss for me. Sometimes they make a game feel extra muddy and hard to understand, while others like Cobalt Core can thrive in such an aesthetic. Heroes and enemies don’t just have colourful personalities, but they pop with colour and design. Bright purples, blues, reds, turquoise, oranges, and more.
Cards and abilities are also shown off in a flashy and fun style, with easy-to-follow and understand graphical flourishes that make choosing the right one at the right time, second nature after a while.
Cobalt Core is one of the most charming, difficult games I’ve come across in 2023. Maybe the sting of making a mistake or not getting the card draw I was hoping for is lessened by the great style, music, and writing. And I’m okay with that. To me, that’s the sign of a wonderful game experience.
There are still a couple dozen cards I haven’t unlocked and one ship I’m still striving to use. Cobalt Core does a great job of wanting me to come back for more. I don’t feel pressured, I don’t feel underpowered… I feel excited! I want to know what’s next and I want to know more about this wacky and charming crew of space explorers.
Whether or not I have a successful time loop or run in Cobalt Core doesn’t detract from my enjoyment. No matter the result, it’s still an excellent game I can’t wait to keep playing. See you in space!
[The publisher provided a copy of the game for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Review: Cobalt Core
Cobalt Core is a turn-based deck builder that is full of amazing mechanics and personality. It draws from some of the best games in the genre and creates a universe I can't help but love... to its core!
Huge variety of characters, ships, and cards to play