At first, Cobalt feels wonderfully rambling and wayward, a game that has clearly relaxed into a lengthy development and then decided to just spread out a little. I get the impression its developers have followed whims, and so: campaign, multiplayer modes, challenges. Guns, throwables, melee. Pets, lockpicking, hacking games, loot, stealth, active-reloads, co-op, block-mining, in-game conversations, unlocks, boomerangs, flashbangs, memes, level editing, dancing.
I have left stuff out. I have left crucial stuff out. I have left out the fact that your feet glow when you hit top speed. I have left out that time my head turned into a propellor and I could suddenly fly. And yet at the heart of it all is something deliriously simple that provides just enough focus to tie it all together. Across all modes, across all entertaining distractions, Cobalt is the 2D platform-shooter-brawler in which you can combat-roll into oncoming projectiles, trigger a glorious moment of auto-slo-mo, and knock whatever's headed your way back in the direction it came from. It's relatively hard to pull off, but that's the point. In your early hours of the game you'll find that you can also pull it off through sheer luck every now and then. That's also the point.
If I've made it sound something like Vanquish, be warned: for your first few hours, it is definitely nothing at all like Vanquish. Cobalt offers its waddling robot protagonist a precision move-set of rolls, double-jumps, punch-jumps and slides alongside melee, ranged and thrown attacks, but it mounts all this stuff in what looks rather convincingly like chaos. Knockabout physics-heavy environments. Encounters that earn their particular character through their strangely brilliant lack of rhythm - lulls followed by enemy spamming, bottlenecks that can be intractable one minute and cleared in seconds on the next attempt. Even the challenges, which for the Cobalt newbie like myself are probably the best place, rather paradoxically, to get the measure of things, are too hectic to bow before sheer precision. There is generally a way to ace each downhill-chase or blow-up-three-of-X, but the real fun comes from uncovering all the ways of completing these treats that are probably unique to you alone, and unique to the way that you have fumbled one section and absolutely S-ranked the next.