Sunday, June 01, 2008

Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle Review

Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle, developed by Cyan Worlds and published by Fanista/Power of Entertainment.
The Good: Unique gameplay, for Windows and Mac
The Not So Good: Extremely tedious level design, no powerups or gameplay variation beyond the very basic, no editor and not much content, can’t skip levels, sporadic presentation
What say you? A trivially easy and generally boring puzzle game aimed squarely for a younger crowd: 4/8

There have been a number of iconic characters in video game history. Mario. Sonic. Gordon Freeman. Cosmic Osmo? This little-known character makes his return after an almost 20 year absence in Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle, a puzzle game by the guys who did Myst (which was kind of popular back in the day). Puzzle games sure are popular, as evidenced by the frequency they get reviewed on this site. Will Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle hook users in?

Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle features 3-D graphics, and the results range from “outstanding” to “unused potential.” First, the design of Cosmic Osmo is very nice: highly detailed, well animated, and a joy to look at (although the mandatory celebration dance does get old after the third time you’ve seen it). It is unfortunate, then, that he inhabits some drab environments. While the backgrounds are nicely detailed and animated, the tiles of Hex Isle are very uninspired. So much more could have been here, as Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle only has simple metallic hexes on which to step. They are jarringly out-of-place and could have been incorporated into the background theme much, much better, such as being a part of the overall terrain instead of simple floating boxes. The sound is also very basic: a couple of canned end-of-the-level dialogue bits from our good friend Cosmic Osmo and some generic background music. While the character model of Cosmic Osmo looks great, the rest of Hex Isle isn’t at the same level of quality.

Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle comes with 36 levels of puzzlement. This isn’t a lot of content compared to almost every other puzzle game on the market, and the lack of a level editor hurts even more. It seems you could implement an editor very easily, considering the simplistic nature of the layouts, but Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle doesn’t have one. In addition, you cannot skip past levels if you get stuck or frustrated. While Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle is available for both Windows and Macintosh PCs, the game lacks typical features found in pretty much every other puzzle game.

Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle is very simple to control: move and jump. Your goal is to step on the six blue hexes scattered (not randomly, sadly) around each puzzle without falling off the edge. In addition to your goal hexes, there are colored hexes that change color from green to yellow to red, and then disappear. So, there is the potential for some interesting results, as you must avoid removing red hexes you may need later. Unfortunately, as far as the gameplay is concerned, you can only move or jump. There are no bonuses, no special powers, no enemies, and nothing else to collect. Even Mario had some fireballs to throw. There’s a reason why the “manual” fits on one sheet of paper: there’s not much to this game. You can try to eliminate hexes quickly (even if they aren’t related to getting the blue hexes) to earn a higher score, but the lack of an online high score list means this goal is meaningless except to unlock six bonus levels.

Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle is clearly designed for a pre-teen audience. The game offers almost no challenge: though the red hexes disappear more quickly as you advance, it never becomes too difficult to complete and the game is over before you know it. In addition, Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle features some atrociously bland level design: you will occasionally have to time jumps, but blue hexes are commonly hidden below other hexes that you must find and remove by trial and error, a process that is not only boring but requires no skill whatsoever. Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle plays more like a tedious scavenger hunt rather than a challenging puzzle game, and that’s not very engaging. I can’t tell you how boring and frustrating it is to simply run across hexes for five minutes, removing every one to uncover the last blue hex. Sigh. I don’t mind having games designed for kids, but you should at least offer up some challenge for an older audience. The tiresome gameplay and minimal content combine to form an ordinary experience.

Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle is too plain. The highlight of the game is the well designed main character, but it all goes downhill from there. The game suffers from a lack of features: there is no level editor, only 36 levels, and the gameplay never changes from the beginning to the end. There are no bonuses or powerups to strategically use: just move and jump. I can’t speak for every audience, but I would imagine that even kids’ games should vary the action at least somewhat throughout the game for those with short attention spans. The level design ranges from somewhat good to downright annoying: while correct timing is necessary on occasion, most of the time you’ll be hunting down hidden hexes by jumping on hundreds of tiles four times each. Talk about bland. If you are under the age of, say, eight, you might add an extra point to the score. Otherwise, Cosmic Osmo’s Hex Isle is too simplistic and monotonous to be very enjoyable.