Nakana.io has made a name for themselves by releasing odd games, usually focusing on a story with an emotional theme. Inifini and Arrog, in comparison, are bizarre experiences but the newly released Cosmic Top Secret might just be their strangest release yet.
Ok, are you ready for this? This is going to sound made up but this is actually true. Playing as a daughter, the game explores the idea that your father might have been a real world spy during the Cold War. In fact, this game needed official military clearance before it was able to be published and inspired a real world event at the Cold War Museum of Denmark. This autobiographical game uses cardboard cutouts of real people to tell the story (think a diorama) but actual video and audio recordings are used throughout the experience. Honestly, when I read the press release for this game I was confused. Then I started playing it and got even more confused but yet highly intrigued. Not to be mistaken for low quality, the unconventional gameplay and storytelling is so unique there isn’t anything quite like it.
Further explaining the story and gameplay can actually ruin the eccentric experience and do not wish to spoil things too badly here but you play as one of these cardboard cut outs, being lead a breadcrumb trail of facts, how-tos, and “go look over there” indicators by a creepy little being in a nuclear hazmat suit. After the brief opening tutorial, each level is a self-contained experience. One of the early stages, for example, has you exploring a forest with your father, learning how to throw hand grenades. Since the open world map is large, throwing a ‘nade provides an indication of your location on the Battleship-style map and also acts as a trigger for other events. If this wasn’t strange enough, your father just leaves you alone in the forest, an unarmed young girl, free to venture as will. According to the story, this actually happened so I cannot help but question the father’s parenting skills. Along the way, the player can explore to collect optional items as well as solve puzzles to open new passages.
Even though the visuals look nothing like it, I was reminded a bit of Banjo Kazooie in terms of gameplay. The large open space filled with collectables, environmental puzzles, and set pieces makes this a 3D platformer at its heart. At the same time, the unique story is the backbone of the entire experience so it is woven into all aspects of the gameplay. When standing still, the playable character is viewed as a cardboard cutout with googly eyes. When moving, the cardboard rolls into a ball as if crushing a single piece of paper before throwing it into the trash. Playing as crumpled paper has some adorable jank as rolling over things or up hills can be glitchy-looking but filled with an unprecedented amount of charm. The cutouts themselves are purposely created with low animation and exaggerated body features, again, to enhance the charm and personality of the experience. Your alleged spy father, for example, has an Elephantiasis arm that is bigger than his entire body and moves in a way that is a little creepy and sort of, well, gross. Everything looks weird on purpose you cannot help but scratch your head but with a dumb smile on your face as this story unfolds. It is weird for the sake of weird but that is the point.
In time, the audio recordings, brief video clips, and interactions with NPCs transports the player into the shoes of this girl who simply wants to learn more about her father. In a way, it is comical, listening to the father’s purposely vague answers in the video and audio recordings. You can tell something is going on but he isn’t allow to say anything. Also, when you think of a spy, you might think of a James Bond type that carries a gun, sneaks around, and hurts people. Here, however, couldn’t be further from the case as this daughter’s father is just a simple old man who looks like your friendly neighbor or Grandpa. The home movie approach to the presentation makes this a calm and family-focused experience.
Cosmic Top Secret is hard to explain because it is so unique and unexpected but leans into its strengths and peculiar narrative. The less you know going into this digital downloadable title the better. Instead of asking if your father is a spy, it might be more worthwhile to ask Nakana.io and their development partners with what type of psychedelic drugs are their favorite. Yeah, this game is weird but fits snuggly into the lineup of other Nakana.io downloadable titles.
Also available on Switch and PS4.
Also Try: Katamari Damacy
Play: Yoshi’s Crafted World for more cardboard visuals
Wait For It: Nakana’s next bizarre release