Having A Blast With Cosmic Smash

There are some games on the Dreamcast that I'm pretty sure would not have translated well from their original Japanese to the West. Only recently we looked at a dating sim from the land of the rising sun, and while it did look intriguing, I think it's safe to say that it would probably have sold less units than a DVD boxset of a wall of wet paint drying. With this in mind, let us turn our attention to another title that never saw the light of day outside of it's native homeland - Cosmic Smash. The reason I draw a comparison between it and the aforementioned dating sim is that Cosmic Smash is a game that by it's very nature transcends all of the usual barriers for localisation, and yet it is glaringly absent from both PAL and NTSC-U libraries.

The premise is achingly simple: you simply take control of the Rez-like translucent character and hit a ball against moving blocks with a paddle. Hit the blocks and they disappear, don't hit them all before the timer runs out...and it's game over. The gameplay options are incredibly threadbare - there's simply a 'main game' mode...and that's it. No character select, no variations or training modes and certainly no career or championship. And it's for this reason that Cosmic Smash represents something of a mystery. Due to the incredibly simple nature of the game, the basic controls (jump, normal and charged shot) and the lack of options it just seems downright odd that Sega didn't think it worthwhile releasing anywhere else but Japan. The localisation efforts would have been minimal - even the text and voice-overs are all in English (you've got to love the uber-cool announcer with his 'couldn't care less' vocal style), so the question remains - why didn't we get a PAL version and why wasn't it released in the US?
Cosmic Smash started life as a NAOMI arcade title (tellingly, it is compatible with the arcade stick), was later ported to the Dreamcast and was the only official title to be shipped in a rather nice-looking, semi-transparent DVD-style case. The game really is a masterclass in stylised design; from the minimalist box art and menus, to the 'less is more' approach to gameplay and progression. Playing like a mixture of squash and breakout and (once again) taking more than a few visual cues from Tetsuya Mizaguchi's musical shooter Rez, Cosmic Smash is a puzzling release from Sega that raises more questions than it answers. The setting is unique in that you appear to be travelling through some sort of tube or underground network complete with branching paths (an Outrun-style 'map' presents itself at the end of each game - see above), and the way the countdown timer is embedded in the stages themselves is a nice visual touch.

You can also kind of tell that there are some minor similarities in the way the on-screen player moves to the way the Virtua Tennis characters do - maybe Sega re-used some of the animations here? Ultimately, Cosmic Smash is an aesthetically interesting, yet fundamentally primitive game that transcends any type of language or cultural barrier...yet wasn't deemed suitable for a Western release. Or maybe Sega had just seen that the writing was on the wall and decided that to release it overseas was nought but another way to haemorrhage even more cash prior to the cancellation of the Dreamcast?

Either way, Cosmic Smash represents an obscure, and fun - if infuriatingly tough - way to spend half an hour if you get the opportunity.

1 comment:

Aaron said...

I've had this game for a long time, but never tried it with the arcade stick. It can be quite a challenge.