App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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When I think of dog-fighting, it conjures up images of life-or-death struggles while weaving through asteroid fields or epic multi-ship skirmishes. I start thinking of any number of sci-fi movies and TV shows (not just The Trilogy) with anything even remotely resembling a spaceship. Most of all, I think of white-knuckle action. I don't usually think of what is essentially turn-based interstellar catapult firing.
Yet, that's kind of what Cosmonauts boils down to. Each side takes turns selecting a weapon, aiming it so as to hopefully connect with their intended target, then firing and seeing what happens. Okay, there's more to it than that. Each of the weapons has a different special ability such as splitting into three separate projectiles or boosting speed in mid-flight for more damage. There's also usually a whole mess of space detritus littered throughout the level, including asteroids, health packs, damage boosters, moons and more. Each one can have a profound effect on a shot and can be integral to success. Especially those moons.
What keeps Cosmonauts from being a simple fire-and-forget affair is the way players can affect their shot while it's still looping through space. Tapping the screen while the projectile is still in flight will activate its special ability, but the most effective way to put the hurt on an opponent is to keep it moving. The longer the hang-time (which is technically impossible in space since there's no actual gravity) the higher the damage multiplier will climb. This is where the moons come in. Shots will actually orbit them for a time, allowing the multiplyer to climb even higher. Skilled players can even pass one shot from moon to moon repeatedly, creating the kind of ordinance that really shouldn't be unleashed anywhere near a planet's atmosphere.
The only real problem with Cosmonauts is that it's incredibly limited. The free version only grants access to one episode (18 levels), while Episode 2 has to be unlocked through in-app purchase. The same issue crops up with the multiplayer and skirmish modes, where only two ships and two pilots can be used. I get that this is a free game, but it feels more like a demo. And having so many in-app purchases for things like new ships, new pilots and new ship skins seems a little... well it's not so great. Throwing in an unlockable or two for us cheapskates or even adding a catch-all price to unlock everything at once would be nice.
In the end, though, Cosmonauts is indeed a freemium game and I can't really fault it for that. There's just enough content to get a taste, and the multiplayer goes a long way to extending its shelf life. Assuming having a choice between one of two ships and pilots isn't a problem. Just keep in mind that seeing everything is going to require a payment or two.