Job Simulator, Rick and Morty: Virtual-Rickality, Vacation Simulator, what do all these virtual reality (VR) videogames have in common? Well, Owlchemy Labs for one but the other is the child-like gameplay that each one has. Like a five-year-old trying to lend a hand when you’re baking, all they want to do is get their hands in the bowl and squidge batter through their fingers (or fling flour around the place). That’s the essence of Cosmonious High, hands-on fun-filled VR with all sorts of hidden delights.
To say that Cosmonious High is aesthetically in your face is an understatement, it’s visually the most striking VR title Owlchemy Labs has ever created. Apart from the very odd black item here and there, the pallet range is entirely in the vivid spectrum with lashings of light blues, oranges, reds, yellows and so many more. This flamboyant colour range makes even more sense as you get further into the videogame mixing up all sorts of liquids to create new concoctions as well as unleashing your inner painter.
Cosmonious High is built around the premise that you’re the new kid, who’s crash-landed into the school on your first day. This being an interstellar school you’re a very special alien, one who can gain abilities as required at a critical time. So when things start to go a little haywire in class (and they will) you’ll suddenly gain a new skill that can be shot from your hands. Unleash a fountain of water, for example, set things on fire, freeze them if you so please or why not make an item tiny or huge. There are eight abilities to discover all of which have their practical uses around the school.
This being an Owlchemy Lab’s title there’s plenty to do. Not only do you have classes to attend – where those new abilities are unlocked – but there are extra credit challenges to complete, students to help, random blobs to find and a school to fix. Yes, the school is falling apart so you need to put out fires, plug leaks and fix electrical systems to get things back in order; essentially busywork.
Those credits are how you unlock more of Cosmonious High, where you’ll find chemistry labs, the art school, astronomy, the sports hall and more; all your usual school stuff. If you’ve played any of the aforementioned videogames then you’ll know almost everything is interactive in some way. Even down to the smallest of details where particular substances interact with one another showcases the level of technical achievement that’s gone into this seemingly childish game.
Take water for example. This is the very first ability you can use, firing jets out your palms to extinguish flames. Find the paint pot and dip your hands in, you can now literally paint any surface in a multitude of colours that’ll blend on their own. Want rid, switch back to water and you can clean up, watching the liquid run down the walls is such an impressive feat considering this is all on Quest 2.
I was also happy to see Owlchemy Labs improve the ability selection function from my initial preview. Previously it was really fiddly to press the back of my hand to activate the selection wheel. Now, no such issue, easily being able to alternate powers on each hand without worrying about smacking the controllers together.
There are a lot of other good ideas employed in Cosmonious High that aid user interaction. Simple things from waving at characters to draw their attention and start a conversation. You can’t talk but you can pull a speech bubble from your mouth with a bunch of what are essentially emojis, where you can encourage a talking point or express how you feel about a particular question posed. This extends to accessibility as well, you can play seated or standing, flicking a switch in your backpack to activate the shorter mode. Or the fact that the only locomotion system is teleportation and snap rotation, making for a very comfortable experience that’s very light on options.
And that’s kind of where Cosmonious High begins to lose its sparkle, particularly if you’re a more experienced player. I’m all for as many accessibility and comfort options as a developer can squeeze in, however, I’ve got to a point – as I’m sure many of you have – in my VR gaming experience where I find teleportation immersion-breaking and just too damn finicky when all I want is to walk around. It feels antiquated to only have this option and gives the impression that the aim is to cater for new players only.
This also seems to be the case in the fact that Cosmonious High offers no challenge whatsoever. Without breaking a sweat you’ll probably be through the main campaign in around five hours, and as mentioned, there’s plenty to keep your hands busy solving little puzzles here and there. Yet it gives the impression of a puzzle game without any truly solid puzzles. Almost as if Owlchemy wants to cater to the pre-teen market when Meta itself doesn’t advise children under 13 using the headset.
Cosmonious High is Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory in VR, with a myriad assortment of sounds, colours and stuff to stick your finger in. It’s technically solid as I’d expect from a developer so well versed in VR with diverse characters and a deep, organic sandbox world to be entertained by. But it sticks to a very well-oiled system of simple task completion with the complexity never raising high enough to satisfy mature VR players. Cosmonious High provides just the right flavour of gameplay for younger players or those new to the VR scene looking to learn how interactive these titles can be. If you played Job Simulator at the original launch then you may want to look elsewhere.