“Cosmic Top Secret” is the highest information NATO classification. In fact, the game has some declassified high-profile information within the story, made available to its players. This and more interesting tidbits about the intelligence business are revealed in Cosmic Top Secret‘s heartfelt, historical narrative.
Klassefilm developed the game with funding from the Danish Film Institute, in an attempt to access the potential of a whole new method of storytelling. After several awards and nominations for its PC and mobile release, this venture was a clear success – and this year, the game will find a new audience on consoles.
Story – Hidden Histories
Trine Laier, also known as “T” in the game, is our player character. She acts as an agent trying to pry secrets from her parents – not only about their time working for the Danish Defence Intelligence Service but their own personal agendas, too.
As you continue to press secrets from your reluctant parents, you soon discover that it wasn’t their work at the Danish Intelligence service that would be their biggest secret. Soon, their personal lives are on full display. Everyone has that point in their lives when they discover that their parents are vulnerable human beings, too. It’s fascinating to see how it plays out in the game, with a brilliant pace.
The game is presented in a way that takes different mediums to flesh out the story. Short clips verify the existence and abilities of friends met along the way. Information about the intelligence service educates players on how this business works. The conversations with Trine’s parents – about gaining weight, revisiting old friends, etcetera – ground the narrative every so often. It makes you ponder how the worlds of past, present, and future coexist.
As someone who likes to watch documentaries, I enjoyed the narrative experience of the game. The story worked well with the surreal art style, allowing you to experience run-of-the-mill conversations with your parents and their old colleagues, and then diving into surreal video game tropes. Seeing little details like family members switching around for the driver role on long road trips reveal mundane, human intricacies in a ridiculous, larger-than-life world. It’s a delight to find your own family experience in this journey.
Gameplay – Orienteering, Marching, and More
Once you allow yourself to be whisked away into the weirdly wonderful world of Cosmic Top Secret, you’ll find that there is quite a bit to do.
The main activity is to collect intel around the stage in different narrative minigames. There are a number of items and dossiers you can add to your collection. Moving around the scenes requires your character to scrunch up into a paper ball and roll around, Samus Aran-style.
Because the experience was originally meant for the film medium, I expected the gamified parts to feel tacked-on. This is a curse of many story-focused titles. I was surprised to see that there are a number of segments employed, helping change up the challenge in each level. Grenade-throwing, world-shifting, flight, stealth – the game does its best to involve the player in its world.
The platforming experience isn’t special and works for the needs of the game. The controls did feel finicky, but they weren’t particularly frustrating on the Switch. There is definitely some control accuracy lee-way to make the game as accessible as possible for a wider audience.
The game is basically a collect-a-thon of documents and knick-knacks, and it’s clear to see why this works as a game rather than a full film. The interactivity with these items in the inventory pushed me to complete my collection and learn more. However, I suspect people who aren’t into documentaries in the first place might not appreciate the information overload. I did enjoy the end-of-level puzzles that required you to pay attention to your collection of data and your surroundings. It feels like true detective work.
A complete playthrough of all the levels takes around 5 hours, depending on the player’s reading speed and desire to get more collectibles.
Audio and Graphics – Sweet and Surreal
The cutout animation technique that Cosmic Top Secret emulates is all at once nostalgic and uncomfortable. It’s definitely an interesting choice for a film and interactive experience, but it adds to the feeling of digging into the past and childhood, so the aesthetic really fits. Our googly-eyed heroes drive their cars and lose their limbs, and it’s this absurd charm that makes it compelling.
The mixed-media presentation of the game is also one of its strong points. Many games may end up a big mess with this kind of style, but Cosmic Top Secret gives everything rhyme and reason. Even the UI feels full but it makes sense – like I am diving into a trunk of ephemera and paperwork. The way old photos, documents, and other materials pile on the screen – the punched tape as one of the recurring items – winds us into a dream world that helps us wrap our head around the secrets we discover.
The sound design serves the game just fine. The sound levels in the voice acting and clips are good, and they do feel like genuine conversations. It’s fun to imagine the real settings that these pieces of dialogue came from, and how they came to be translated into odd little paper puppets.
Cosmic Top Secret was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Nakana.io.