In the early 1980's (1982 for the precise of those amongst you) in the town of Takarazuka, Japan, a man named Hiroyuki Imabayashi wrote a little puzzle game for Talking Rabbit, the games company for whom he was working. The game he produced went on to win an award and soon became a national and, shortly after, global phenomenon. The game to which I am referring is Sokoban (a Japanese word meaning "warehouse keeper/man") and if you have never heard of it then shame on you! Doing a quick search over on Google, will reveal over 150,000 references.
Over the years, the Sokoban concept has been copied, revised and improved and has appeared on many formats as official and as unofficial releases bearing different names, which brings us nicely to this Atari 8-bit release. Cosmic Hero, by Polish scene members Pazur and Saint, is a Sokoban clone, pure and simple, but with a "futuristic" setting. It was apparently written in 1993 but was significantly delayed because of disk reading problems and changes in the graphical department.
At this point in the review I would usually spend a paragraph or two relaying the story underpinning the game, but on this occasion I can't. The game instructions are in Polish and unfortunately my Polish is poor in a non-existent kind of way. I've resorted to reading the particularly poorly translated instructions in the Commodore 64 version of Cosmic Hero with limited success. I'm sure a friend, relative or online translation service could convert the instructions to a language I'm more likely to understand, but that would waste time which could be better spent playing this fabulous little game! Essentially, you control a "Cosmic Hero" (man with a jetpack) and have to slide pieces of cable, which are distributed about the enclosed level, into position between the switch and generator and then press fire to throw the switch and gain access to the next level. Along the way your "Cosmic Hero" must collect "flasks" of fluid which save the Earth from destruction. Apparently.
This game is fairly well presented. The title screen, with large moving "Cosmic Hero" lettering, leads to a single screen game whose layout is clear and colourful. Blocks define the main play area which changes with each level. Every level contains the power generator, switch, pieces of cable and movable obstructions such as disks and monitors. Everything moves less than smoothly, but the graphics portray the action adequately enough. At the bottom of the game screen is a status panel which is again, written in Polish; but it will take you only a few moments to work out which words mean "Level", "Lives", "Score" and "Record". A bouncy little tune accompanies the action, which is a faithful reproduction of the music by Andor Csech which accompanies the Commodore 64 version of Cosmic Hero. Although pleasant enough, it is exceptionally short so repeats on a regular basis. How is your tolerance to repetitive music today?
The learning curve and progression in Cosmic Hero is just right. The first few levels introduce the action well and can be completed without breaking into much of a sweat and the later levels are tricky but not frustratingly so. Cosmic Hero, like the original Sokoban, is a classic game of logic, forward-thinking and problem-solving. Rather than the usual quick reflexes and well oiled trigger finger, Cosmic Hero requires plenty of brainpower and most of the levels are well designed and provide a decent challenge. Occasionally you will encounter a situation, always of your own making, that makes the level un-winnable. Pressing the Escape key on the keyboard exits this stalemate and allows you to start the level again, but loses you a life.
Overall then this is a fine, challenging game of Sokoban, Atari 8-bit style. It plays better than the Commodore 64 version in my opinion, although, as mentioned, the graphics could do with moving a little more smoothly and some kind of password system to access later levels, instead of having to play them through again, would have been (very) nice. Other than that, Cosmic Hero is a solid implementation of Sokoban which I'll be loading and playing for a while yet.