Note: Since time of writing, a number of improvements have been made as part of the "Director's Cut" version. This review is based solely on the original release.
Space, the final frontier... Boldly going where no man (or even dog) has gone before. Tales of Cosmos may not be a five-year mission – quite the contrary – but it does have strange new worlds to explore and (for some reason) mice who like chewing gum. It also has plenty of puzzles and two protagonists who'll need to team up to solve them. The story and characterisation may be a bit sketchy, unlike the lovely cartoon graphics, but overall this is a fairly entertaining blast from the past for those who like their adventuring a bit retro.
It's a very exciting day for intrepid scientists and explorers Perseus and Gagayev: they've just reached uncharted space, and seemingly in a repurposed Space Shuttle at that! No sooner have they started recording this momentous event in the ship's log, though, than everything starts to go horribly wrong. An intense magnetic field knocks out their engines, the (inevitable) attempt to take manual control doesn't work, and there's nothing left to do but abandon ship before they crash land on the delightfully-named Chlorine Beach.
The pair’s problems don’t stop once on the ground: Chlorine Beach is about as toxic and unwelcoming as it sounds, their spacecraft's broken in two and, just to add insult to injury, a crab runs off with Gagayev's wrench. There's nothing for it but to try to scrounge up some parts, MacGyver themselves a new vehicle from the scrap they find lying around, and try to work out what's going on. Oh, and did I mention that Perseus is a dog, and Gagayev (aka the Professor) is some kind of vaguely purple ape? Laika would be proud, if possibly a bit confused.
Yes, they may be wearing cute orange spacesuits and are smarter than your average bear, but this is very definitely a dog and an ape seeking out new life and new civilisations. In fact, the universe of Tales of Cosmos appears to be pretty much free of human life. Instead, you'll meet spacefaring rodents, a green sea captain with entirely too many arms, and even a glowing, hovering, alien squid-mushroom as you travel from world to world in your eventually-repaired vessel.
The worlds you visit are odd in other ways too. For one thing, they're absolutely tiny, so small you can walk all the way around in a minute or two. It’s not unlike the Samorost games, though here they're still round and full of familiar structures; they're just so small that you can see virtually a whole hemisphere at once.
They're also charmingly hand-drawn, cartoonish and intricate in a slightly naive style. Each world also has its own character, although only three really stand out. Chlorine Beach is an abandoned resort, but with luminous green sludge and cracking, hard-baked desert where the crystal clear waters and soft sand would normally be. Elsewhere, Clades looks like a mash-up of classic horror movies, with a sinister pumpkin-headed scarecrow, ominous ravens, and a forbidding castle. Novaclad feels like Soviet-era city, with august statues, a heavily-armoured war machine blocking your way, and greenhouses (though curiously without a collective farmer in sight). Our heroes also visit three smaller worlds, one that may as well be the Moon, a giant crystal in space, and a simple black ball. There's also a pint-size space station thrown in for good measure.
These are no mere static planets, either. Somehow, maybe because they're so small, they really hurtle through space, and the skies are filled with stars, nebulae and glorious auroras scudding by. It's quite something to behold, and makes everything feel vibrantly alive, despite a relative lack of other ambient animations.
The music, by contrast, is fine but bland, mostly just floaty ambient chords to convey the awe and majesty of being in space. The tempo does pick up now and then (notably to build tension during the climax) and it does add a bit of atmosphere, but not as much as, say, the rumbling thunder and cawing birds on Clades. There's also no voice work, perhaps not surprisingly given the non-human cast. Instead, the characters squeak or grunt and Perseus barks a translation, with subtitles for those who don’t speak dog. Gagayev's the strong silent type and gets by with expressive shrugs.
Controlling the dynamic duo is... interesting. Most of the time, our heroes wander around together, their tandem movement toggled by pressing F to make the other character follow your lead. Sometimes, though, you'll need to switch this off and control them individually to solve puzzles requiring teamwork. Perseus and Gagayev are very much partners, with complementary skills. Gagayev's good with his hands (paws?) and manages the team's inventory, while Perseus is better at talking to people and can bark very intimidatingly when necessary. To make progress, you'll need to switch between them pretty regularly (using the tab key).Continued on the next page...