It turns out that 2001: A Space Odyssey had it pretty much right: most life in the universe does owe its existence to a giant floating baby. I think it's a baby, anyway. If it's not, it raises even more questions. Star children are bad enough, but what's a fully grown cosmonaut doing out there in the echoing wilds of the galaxy wearing nothing but a perspex helmet and a jetpack?
This is Cosmochoria, thankfully, rather than the blind ramblings of a mad person, and Cosmochoria, beneath the wonderfully bizarre get-up, is a surprisingly sane game. It has simple objectives, neat interlocking systems, a handful of interactions that all feel really good, and a sprawling environment to hold everything together. It's a game about restoring life to barren worlds, but it's really about escalation, and escalation's almost always brilliant.
Made by the delightfully named Nate Schmold, Cosmochoria casts you as that naked cosmonaut gardener and lets you loose in a 2D starscape where you can jetpack from one lump of rock to the next. When you land on a planet, you're held by its gravity, and you can then wander around planting seeds and restoring the place to lavish, colourful, organic health. Planting seeds is a time-consuming business, and it leaves you exposed to the gangs of roving alien jerks in their UFOs who wobble towards you, blasting away, and even dropping off slithery, bouncy shock trooper types who wander back and forth causing grief. Once the planting's done, though, you can return fire, and once your plants have grown they'll drop seeds allowing you to spread even more life. You'll take damage during all this gardening - what kind of gardener doesn't, right? - but if a planet's fully healed by shrubbery, it can heal you in return. It's almost like there's some kind of message here.
What I really love about Cosmochoria - and you can love it too, since there's a very generous demo that's playable in a browser - is the feeling of jetting through space, choosing which planet to land on next and avoiding falling into any nearby suns. You'll see crazy things out there - planets with little portals on them, asteroids smashing into dusty worlds and sending out cartoon sparks - and there's a real sense of discovery. And panic, actually, as your jet fuel can disappear in seconds if you're not careful, and it's also surprisingly easy for a naked space gardener to lose their bearings. (Kubrick never mentioned that part.)
Cosmochoria's in the final weeks of its modest, and yet wildly successful Kickstarter, and it's already so much fun to mess around in - and so pretty, too, with its colourful, playschool art - that it's hard to see how the final game can improve on the demo. I'm pretty sure Schmold knows what he's doing, though. He's been tending this patch of terrain beautifully and I can't wait to see what else grows out of it.