One of the best things about being an aficionado of retro gaming is recognizing the truly landmark games that affected all the games that followed. Pac-man introduced a whole new world of maze gaming. Donkey Kong presented us to Mario who helped define what a platform game should be. But the dark side of retro gaming is wading through some truly awful crap. Can I say crap on this site? If not, I’m guessing the editor will help me out with a suitable replacement. For gaming to evolve, we don’t merely celebrate successes, but we also identify things we never want to see again. And, if I never see Cosmic Chasm for the Vectrex again, I’m going to be just fine with that.
The game is ambitious – but poorly executed. Your goal is to burrow deep into an alien planet and set off a bomb – destroying the alien race, and presumably making the galaxy a safer place. Let’s assume that I’m okay with the genocidal aspects of this game – and move from concept to gameplay. The game starts with a map of the caverns I need to tunnel through to reach the planet’s core. Once there, I’m supposed to set the bomb and race out before the bomb’s 15 second timer elapses. After briefly glimpsing the map – and my position on it, I need to identify the optimal route out of the cavern I occupy. At this point, I’m onboard with the game. It’s reasonably clever – and makes me think as I plot my course. All good.
But then, things fall apart, and fast. Graphics are okay, but the sound is nearly nonexistent. The movie Alien taught me that in space, “no one can hear you scream.” The designers of Cosmic Chasm have taken this to new levels. In their space, you can hear next to nothing at all. But, audio doesn’t make a game. The controls and action do. Again, we have some misfires. Literally. Why do are my dual lasers just spaced far enough apart to allow enemies to fly between them? Perhaps I must blame the Vectrex designers rather than the game authors for the next problem. The buttons needed to operate my space drill (how else would you get through a force field, without a space drill?) and the thrusters are placed so far apart, that I can’t hit both simultaneously with one hand. Thus, an awkward joystick juggle entailing both thumbs ensues. And, finally, the cardinal sin of arcade gaming is broken. It just isn’t fair. You enter a new screen, and sometimes the enemies are right on top of you. No opportunity at all to blast them.
There are many great reasons to own a Vectrex. Cosmic Chasm isn’t one of them. But, if you’re holding a beverage at this moment, raise it in toast to this dud anyway. It was ambitious, and definitely contributed to the progress of gaming. Because I’m certain that some young game designers played it – or something like it- and said to themselves, “I can do better. I can make a game where the enemies don’t appear onscreen on top of you. I can make a game that doesn’t make me want to put a fist through the monitor.” Retro gaming is wonderful, but progress is a beautiful thing too.