A trip to Cosmonious High is a little like stepping inside Sesame Street. That is if Sesame Street was in another galaxy, Kermit was actually a renowned scientist in make-believe chemistry and Miss Piggy headed up an art class that quickly descended into a chaotic mess.
Owlchemy’s latest exercise in exploring VR interactions and storytelling comes in the form of this intergalactic high school romp, posing as ‘edutainment’ filtered through the team’s typically nonsensical brand of humor. You enroll as a new student who, on their first day, discovers adaptive powers that manifest in times of need. An impromptu fire on the morning bus grants you the ability to shoot water from your hands, for example, whereas Tilt Brush-style 3D drawing with crystals sees you link up severed electrical wires.
New applications for these powers make themselves apparent as you work your way through the game’s classes. In Visualetics, you realize that dipping your hand in paint and using the water power makes the entire world your canvas, whilst crystals can be used to fashion items requested by students and ice can be used to block up leaky water valves.
Expanding on the semi-open nature of Vacation Simulator before it, Cosmonious High lets you tackle classes and the missions within in any order you see fit, provided you’ve got the power to get the job done. Certain sets of powers can then be used to unlock doors and complete challenges as you roam the hallways between classes, though the preview build also suggests you’ll be invited back to older classes once you have new powers to complete other lessons.
This is, as you’d expect from the team, entirely whimsical. The halls and classrooms of Cosmonious High are a particularly blinding shade of vibrant, and your fellow classmates and teachers are wide-eyed critters with flamboyant personalities and chuckle-worthy one-liners to match. Classes see you mixing up elements that sound invented on the spot, and some NPCs appear as brain-bending 2D animations that are tough to comprehend in VR even as they stand before you.
Owlchemy’s penchant for accessible, intuitive interaction remains intact, too. Your inventory backpack features sliders for adjusting options, for example, and Half-Life: Alyx’s flick-and-grab pickup system has been borrowed for added convenience, too.
What I haven’t seen from Cosmonious High yet, though, is any sort of sophisticated or challenging implementation of its powers. At one point you’re asked to paint on a canvas, but simply firing red paint at the wall will earn you points, whilst in another moment a student needs you to design a sword and shield out of crystals, but making any random pattern does the job. Other objectives, meanwhile, present simple puzzles it took me moments to solve.
Whilst the artistic freedom makes for some expressive fun and, as with the Simulator games, there’s a family-friendly element to it, I wouldn’t expect any hours-long roadblocks in the path to the end of Cosmonious. But I am hoping the later parts of the game do at least present some interesting and innovative scenarios to tackle. Otherwise, to older audiences at least, Owlchemy’s work here risks being forgotten just as soon as you’ve seen it through.
This is a difficult balancing act and undoubtedly the developer’s biggest struggle in a market that’s not only still establishing itself with gritty shooters like Resident Evil 4 VR becoming instant best-sellers but isn’t technically even meant to be allow players under 13.
Still, the trailer above does suggest there’s a lot more to come. A resize power lets you scale items up and down, for example, and you’ll be be to hunt for lost student passes and more. The menus also suggest that there are plenty more powers to unlock in the game and hopefully they’ll go beyond spraying elements or drawing in a 3D space to deliver something more complex. Certainly, though, anyone that enjoyed Vacation Simulator’s easy-going set of minigames and challenges will find themselves at home here.
And, with all that said, there’s nothing to suggest Cosmonious High won’t at the very least be another entirely entertaining and polished adventure from Owlchemy. The game’s releasing on Quest 2 and SteamVR on March 31, and we’ll have plenty more coverage of the experience as part of Upload Access in the run-up to launch.