Title: Cogen: Sword of Rewind Review
Release Date: January 26, 2022
Reviewed On: PC
Genre: 2D Action
Challenging 2D action games are far from a rare breed, yet they can be undeniably addicting. Many games aim to achieve this in their own ways, akin to Mega Man and the more recent Gunvolt, which likely acted as the foundation for Cogen: Sword of Rewind. For as enticing as its demanding skill-based gameplay seems to be, it gradually approaches questionable difficulty curves that would more than likely turn off the average player.
Throughout Cogen, the protagonist Kohaku awakes in an unfamiliar area and meets a talking sword named ExeBreaker. After some casual introductions, the blade becomes wielded by Kohaku, and they discover that they are actually in her hometown, Cogen City, now in collapsing ruins. Kohaku gradually learns about what led to this seemingly bizarre culmination while meeting various characters who fill in the blanks in her memory.
The narrative here grants a decent enough hook, and it’s thankfully accompanied by talented voice work. The Japanese voice acting is clearly bolstered by enthusiasm, with Kohaku’s voice actress pouring a noticeable degree of effective joviality into her performance. Admittedly, the story itself never becomes particularly memorable or worthwhile as the voice acting is what kept me remotely engaged. Unfortunately, any potential effect the story could have is lost in the midst of the gameplay cycle.
Players experience a myriad of 2D action stages fraught with perilous platforming hazards and varied enemies. There is enough differentiation in area design for each stage to be distinct, adding a continually growing sense of identity. Further, the visual quality is superb, with endearing sprite work and gorgeous CGs. The graphical state of this game is arguably its highest point as it amplifies the mood and scale of the adventure in all of the appropriate ways.
However, the gameplay of Cogen is a mixed, messy bag. The primary gimmick Kohaku possesses to make this title stand out more than simply being a Mega Man or Gunvolt clone is the ‘Rewind’ mechanic referenced in the title. Kohaku falls in one hit, but ExeBreaker provides a limited time rewind ability. While this skill can only enable players to travel back a few seconds in time, a few seconds is paramount to surmounting the walls between death and life. This is a genuinely fast-paced action romp, so the efficacy of the rewind gimmick grows swiftly evident.
The rewind feature requires a short recharge time, though, a fair tradeoff for essentially undoing pivotal mistakes. Fundamentally, Cogen features concepts that should theoretically mesh well together, but the difficulty curves make that reality unattained.
While the title grants practical tutorials right off the bat, the challenges presented to the player randomly become far more demanding than what is initially depicted. It wasn’t long before I encountered groups of enemies in closed-off rooms, with windows of safe attack availability being inherently questionable.
Restarting from prior checkpoints became an all too frequent occurrence. Unlike other challenging action titles, I never found myself gradually completing an internal puzzle that would lead to me learning robust strategies. Instead, I would find myself brute-forcing several scenarios, never sure of what the intended pathway to victory was.
Personally, proper difficulty in video games requires players to analyze telegraphs, patterns, or traits in a situation to best assess how to tackle it. Relying on incarnate randomness or careless quantity in gameplay design rarely leads to meaningful victorious catharsis. Cogen embraces the latter fault, choosing to overwhelm players with out of nowhere scenarios that are not conducive to enjoyable learning.
I gradually grew to dread the stage design, aiming to flee as many enemies as possible since every element felt purposefully incorporated to induce agitation. Troll-like enemy placement near hazards and seemingly impossible enemy battles that I still have no idea how I prevailed against permeated my time.
The rewind mechanic almost feels leaned on to justify these inept decisions, which is immensely disappointing. Ironically enough, the boss battles are where the combat system truly shined. Aside from a few odd range issues, the bosses felt far fairer to contend with than the standard enemies. They are well-designed, and at points, it honestly felt like I was playing a wholly different game.
My remarks on Cogen’s stage and enemy design may seem harsh, but they are only accentuated by how stellar this title appears to be otherwise. Great art direction, terrific voice work, smooth skill utility, and even fair-minded boss battles are all present. Sadly, the main course, the stages, and enemies themselves stand in the way too often for those positive traits to thrive.
Cogen: Sword of Rewind is an unfortunate case of appearances being deceiving. I was drawn into this title by many external factors, yet its execution falters in disastrous ways. If the game wasn’t so reliant on the rewind feature being a supposed “fix-it” button for unfair design, then there could have been a genuinely special treat of a 2D experience that would be easily recommendable. Thankfully, the performance is buttery smooth, so no deaths can be attributed to that factor.
Cogen: Sword of Rewind would likely only satisfy those yearning for challenging action-platformer regardless of its reception. You could do much better with the genre, and I hope the development team learns from these efforts to potentially make a far more fulfilling game in the future. With an especially meager playtime to boot, there isn’t much-instilled replay value with this gameplay quality nor enough bang for your buck. At the very least, Kohaku is pretty cute.
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