The Best New Roguelike Indie Game on Nintendo Switch Stars a Space-Faring Possum
The cutest card game on Switch.
Roguelike deckbuilders are the perfect games for getting their hooks into my squishy brain and not letting go, but with new titles in the genre constantly releasing, I have to admit, I have card game fatigue.
But this year, a new game may finally enter the pantheon of my favorite deckbuilders ever, and it got there without straying far from the genre’s roots. By turning cards into the controls for a maneuverable spaceship, Rocket Rat Games’ Cobalt Core adds new strategic options to the genre’s formula. On top of that, its charming presentation makes guiding your characters through run after run a joy.
Cobalt Core is a pure card battler, but adding a simple movement mechanic makes it feel fresh even in the deckbuilder deluge. You play as the crew of a spaceship who goes toe-to-toe with other starfighters using the awesome power of a deck of cards. Your deck is determined by which characters you choose to fly your ship, each specializing in a different area like weapons, shields, or drones.
Mixed in with cards that let you fire your weapons and power up shields are dodge cards, which allow you to move your ship left or right. Since you can always see where enemy attacks are going to land on their turn, this gives you the chance to get out of the way instead of soaking up shots with your shields.
Dodging attacks is a small addition to the deckbuilder canon, but it opens up all kinds of interesting strategies. One NPC you can run into — who’s actually pulled from Rocket Rat’s previous game, Sunshine Heavy Industries — will add an empty scaffold that makes hostile fire pass through your ship without causing damage. With clever positioning, you can use tricks like these to avoid damage entirely, making Cobalt Core feel far more kinetic than your average deckbuilder.
One full run takes you across three sectors, each of which has a branching map where you’ll make about a dozen stops. Along the way, you’ll battle others, build and upgrade your deck, and collect buffs by investigating anomalies, with a boss fight capping off each sector.
Things get more interesting once you finish your first run. Each time you defeat the final boss, a ship called the Cobalt, your crew is sent back to the beginning of the loop after seeing a vision of the past, which slowly fills in the story of why the crew is stuck in its Groundhog Day adventure. Completing a run under certain conditions, like playing on hard mode, can also unlock new crewmates and ships to keep the next run fresh.
That crew is made up of a gang of adorable anthropomorphic animals. Cobalt Core’s combat is inventive enough to make it an easy recommendation, but its goofball tone really makes the space adventure sing. Your crewmates chat with each other between turns to keep your intense battles light, and NPC interactions can change based on who you bring along.
The NPCs, too, are full of personality, whether you’re fighting them or buying upgrades from them for your cards. My favorite so far is Soggins, a frog who’s lost control of his ship’s missile controls. Instead of fighting Soggins, you have to defend him as his missiles attack his own ship until he figures out how to turn them off. Another highlight is Sir Ratzo, who challenges you to an honorable duel in a ship that looks like a medieval suit of armor. Bring the dragon-like Drake along as your gunner and you’ll even get the option to attack the mechanics at repair bays. With ships that unfold like accordions to reveal row after row of cannons, mechanics will otherwise easily crush an unprepared crew and gloat about it afterward.
Adding to the atmosphere is Cobalt Core’s wildly catchy chiptune soundtrack, which is honestly enough to keep me playing round after round on its own. The boss theme for facing off against a significantly cooler version of one of your crewmates from the future is a highlight that builds into a wildly energetic track as the fight goes on.
I’ve spent a few days with Cobalt Core, and while I’ve completed a few full loops now, it’s not even close to feeling repetitive. Swapping out crewmates and ships adds a ton of variety to each run, and I still haven’t unlocked even half of them. With stellar combat that feels like a mix of Slay the Spire and FTL with the charm turned up to 11, Cobalt Core’s time loop is worth reliving again and again.