Cosmic Express features a series of linked bio-domes floating in the void, their layouts having apparently been designed by a sadist drunk on gin.
Dotted about each dome’s grid floor you’ll find stranded aliens and the habitats that they’re trying to reach. Each dome has an entrance and at least one exit, all of which have train track stubs.
If you’ve not yet figured out your place in the scheme of things, you’re the mug that gets to lay the tracks – and decidedly tricky regulations lurk to limit your plans for intergalactic domination of the railroad kind.
The game begins with you drawing a straight line of track, using a single-seat carriage to ferry a little purple alien from a stop to a home further along the way. Easy. But Cosmic Express quickly and gleefully complicates matters.
You soon juggle multiple passengers – often different aliens that have distinct destinations in mind. Sometimes, two aliens want to board simultaneously, but bounce off of each other when trying to do so. Green passengers spurt slime everywhere, so no-one else will board the train. Nailing the order and location of pick-ups is therefore key, and it can require serious brainpower to concoct a successful route.
Additionally, unlike the ostensibly similar Trainyard, Cosmic Express lacks junctions. You always lay a single snaking track that cannot overlap, and a single wrong turn can mean having to scrap your hard work and start again. Even when the game seems to lend a helping hand by way of pre-laid crossroads and wormholes, you realise if anything they exist to toughen your task.
Over the moon
Only as you delve into the trickiest puzzles does Cosmic Express become trying. There’s no time limit, and you can always draw a bit of track and hit a play button to see what happens. But also you can only draw/erase as a single line from an entrance or exit. It can frustrate when you spot a blunder part-way through an absurdly labyrinthine route and must backtrack to that point and then recreate track you’ve obliterated.
Still, this proves to be a minor niggle in a puzzler that’s otherwise a chuffing success. Cosmic Express looks and sounds superb, and has a well-judged difficulty curve. Smartly, completing puzzles gradually reveals a branching network of levels, so you’re never stuck on a single brain-bending puzzle that blocks access to the rest of the game.
By the end, though, when you’ve stared at one of the final puzzles for hours, you might question why when this universe’s space-station builders have access to wormhole technology, they won’t even allow you to construct the odd bridge. Like we said: sadists.