Implayed (Episode 34): 0RBITALIS

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Note: Still in Early Access.

For some reason, wherever I look, I see only praise for this game. I can see why – it looks great with its minimalist design, watching objects orbiting other objects always looks nice, and the sound design is rather amazing – but I simply don’t think it’s that great as a game. I suppose it’s because I don’t exactly like games like Angry Birds, where all you have to do is put do a little something and then see the result, but in this case, the design is taken quite a bit to the extreme.

That doesn't really look like much of an orbit

That doesn’t really look like much of an orbit

See, 0RBITALIS is a game where you basically shoot a bullet on a certain trajectory using the mouse. In order to pass, your projectile has to “survive” for a certain amount of time, depending on the level. A level is a 2D plane of a space system, with different variations, like different numbers of planets, suns and satellites, all in stable orbit. Problem is that you’re the only thing on the plane which cannot have a stable orbit, despite you trying again and again; it doesn’t jive well at all with it trying to be a puzzle game. Once you find the game become a bit stale, it does throw a bit of a curveball by adding astral bodies with strange properties, like repulsors or off-and-on suns, all of which (as far as I know), don’t really exist in real life. That’s fine, but they also wouldn’t work within the context of the gravitational system you have to shoot your projectile in. That is also fine, as the level doesn’t have to make sense in a game, but then there’s the design of the game.

See, in a puzzle game, there’s usually a process you go through in order to extract the fun from it. It generally requires you to work for the fun a little bit. There’s different kinds of puzzle games, of course, but even if you talk about a light puzzle game like Bejeweled, you get satisfaction from doing matches and randomly getting cascades. If you go into something quite a bit heavier, like SpaceChem, for instance, the fun comes from figuring out the deterministic outcome in order to complete the level. Hell, games like Peggle or Angry Birds work because you get multiple tries to get it done, and it’s flashy and satisfying when you do. 0RBITALIS takes the control scheme of Peggle and tries to sell you the satisfaction of figuring out the puzzle from SpaceChem. When it works, it works fine. The problem comes up when you simply click in the window after being alt-tabbed and you get a clear by accident. After trying to get the level done by trying it 15 times beforehand.

My best result

My best result

See, because you have a time limit to reach in order to pass the level, it’s usually much easier to finish missions by simply trying to avoid having a stable orbit in any way and spoofing the game by picking trajectories the developer wouldn’t expect. Doing that is fine in many puzzle games, but in this it simply feels cheap and random. I never got the satisfaction of finishing any of the 0RBITALIS puzzles because I just thought that I would be just as effective clicking randomly on the screen.

I suppose that doesn’t make the game very much justice, especially considering that the game is simply just not for me. I also suppose there’s something to be said when a game like Kerbal Space Program, which simulates orbital physics quite a bit more accurately than this, is actually easier to get an orbit in than in 0RBITALIS.

The map in the last picture, on the leaderboards. There's also a SpaceChem-like score statistic

The map in the last picture, on the leaderboards. There’s also a SpaceChem-like score statistic

Anyway, if you are interested in a relaxing game both looks and audio-wise, with a very simple control scheme, you’ll probably like 0RBITALIS. If you’re, well, me, you probably won’t.

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