Rare-a-thon: Cobra Triangle

The hardest games to review are those where you can clearly see the merit of their design, but find that it doesn’t resonate with you personally. Cobra Triangle is that for me. A beloved NES classic with remarkable graphics, which I plainly didn’t enjoy.

Cobra Triangle is a bit of a hybrid game. Players control a speedboat equipped with weapons through 25 levels that marry racing with shoot ’em up action. You zip through the water at blazing speeds and blow up enemies along the way. However, each stage has an objective to it. Sometimes it’s a race to the finish, at other times an obstacle course, or maybe a mission where you need to defend people from boats that try to kidnap them. There are even honest-to-God boss-fights here.

The game controls smoothly. With one button you accelerate and with the other you fire your weapons. You get a nice level of speed out of this, in turn making maneuvering the boat very satisfying. It certainly feels like a step up compared to R.C. Pro-Am, particularly when it comes to making those nasty turns.

An isometric view with a zoomed-out perspective offers a good oversight of your surroundings. At the same time, the large, detailed sprites make it easy to distinct everything you need to keep an eye on. It also makes the game look really nice. Cobra Triangle certainly impresses with its visual detail. Those great-looking sprites, the different environments for all the levels, and all the little animations that make it look dynamic; the effort om display is greatly appreciated. They even recolor the water from time to time.

Truly, this is a game that I wanted to like. So let’s discuss why that didn’t happen.

My main issue with the game is its breakneck pacing. Each level is more like a mini-game than a coherent challenge; dropping you in a new map with an objective that you usually have less than a minute to complete. Move these bombs to a specific area, jump over these waterfalls, race these enemies. Every level is so short that none of them get to be a satisfying challenge. They are hard, but the objectives are too shallow and brief to really feel meaningful.

A lot of the levels also just end up being plain annoying. Jumping those waterfalls, for example, involves lining up a jump for a ramp that moves around. Except you don’t see the ramp until you move into the current that launches you forward, at which point you may only have a split-second left to correct yourself. It’s not so much about skill as it’s about guesswork. Moving bombs to a safe zone involves dodging enemies that you are arbitrarily not allowed to attack and which are always faster than you. You need to make turns in a certain way to keep them at bay, while taking fire from respawning enemies in every direction. Remember, you only have seconds to complete this.

Even the boss-fights are ruined by this design. They are fun challenges and I adore how they look, but you have a minute to crunch through their massive health bars. Without power-ups or tricks, you may find yourself literally not having enough time to defeat the boss. I honestly considered using cheats to extend the timer, just so I could have the time to fight these monsters properly.

My second issue is that the game is too keen on killing you. You get a health bar that can take a fair bit of abuse, but all kinds of hazards will instantly claim 1 of your lives. Falling into pits, crashing on land, running out of time, all of it will explode you instantly. The game revels in this too, such as by putting ramps in races that actually launch you towards certain death. Then your timer runs out inches before the finish because you had to respawn a ways back; that’s another life down the drain. The game is not generous with these either, so be prepared to see the Game Over screen plenty of times. If you care to stick with it, that is.

Impressive graphics are nice, but I did not enjoy my time with Cobra Triangle. It’s a novel game with plenty of imagination, though that novelty comes at a cost. A lack of focus leaves levels feeling unsatisfying, while the great controls go wasted on obnoxiously-designed objectives. It has its place in gaming history, but not a place inside my NES.

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