Talk about opposites. Earlier in the week I reviewed Taptitude, accidentally stirring up a hornet’s nest in doing so. My criticisms of the game for being too thinly-spread and too focussed on metagames to rope the player in were challenged, with a very many people seeing the variety of games and extra goals to be some of its most appealing aspects. So now we come to a game which, on the face of it, does exactly what I want. Where Taptitude was broad, Orbital is focussed; where Taptitude was filled with progression structures, Orbital has virtually no framing at all. So how does it hold up?
A game of angles, Orbital has a simple core conceit: shots are fired from the bottom of the screen with a fixed level of force. Once they come to a rest, they expand until they hit an edge, forming a numbered orb. Each time a shot is fired into an orb the number decreases, and once the number reaches zero the orb disappears, earning the player points. The difficulty comes from the fact that should a shot ever rebound past the bottom edge of the playing field, the game is over.
This idea is fleshed out into three different modes: Supernova, Gravity and Pure. Pure is, as the name suggests, the simplest of the three: your cannon is constantly swinging back and forth, and fires whenever you tap the screen. The orbs all take 3 shots to destroy, and you earn one point per destroyed orb. That’s it.
Gravity takes the formula of pure and adds, well, gravity to the mix. Every orb you place generates a gravitational well (nicely visualised through the warping of the subtle grid in the background). Larger orbs have larger wells, allowing for long, swooping trick-shots, and lucky rescues from misplaced shots as the larger orbs drag a plummeting shot back around, away from the bottom edge. The effect is well judged, and adds a welcome element to the otherwise overly-simplistic pure mode.
Supernova is a different beast altogether. For one thing, all the orbs count down from 5, rather than 3, meaning it takes a lot more work to bring one down. For another, you have direct control of the cannon, with it aiming where you point (and projecting a handy beam of light in the direction it will fire). But the primary difference is in the combos.
You see, bringing an orb down to zero in Supernova mode causes it to, well, go supernova, detonating and generating a blast-wave roughly twice the orb’s size. This blast wave causes any other orbs it touches to react as if they had been shot, potentially causing further orbs to explode, which can in turn cause even more orbs to detonate… the opportunities for chaining should be obvious. Chaining is useful for clearing large numbers of orbs at once, of course, but its primary benefit is accruing masses of points.
Like the other modes, a single orb will net you one solitary point. With every extra detonation, however, the score increases exponentially, with larger combinations easily earning you upwards of 100 points. Chaining, therefore, is essential to getting high scores, even as it risks cluttering your screen with orbs, making every shot riskier than the last. It’s a brilliant risk-reward structure, and adds masses of depth to the game. Those huge orbs that you normally try to avoid making are suddenly incredibly useful, capable of sending out a shockwave to affect nearly every other orb on screen. Those clusters of tiny orbs, too small to hit reliably, become a useful cluster of points for any nearby detonations. A hugely simple mechanic, yet it has a massive effect on the depth of the game.
Online leaderboards provide the impetus to improve – or at least they would, if they worked. Hopefully this is a temporary setback (or just my phone being a bit special), as the game sorely suffers from a lack of anything to compete with. There’s also a distinct lack of any attempts made to invent a system of progress beyond your improving scores: there are Achievements in place, as Microsoft mandate that all Live games must have them, but these are almost all tied into your skill in playing the game, rather than artificially encouraging you to play for 10 hours or any other such nonsense – what few achievements there are for playing set numbers of games are set to targets you’ll achieve in well under an hour: the highest being ‘play 100 games’ – which you’ll reach very quickly as you struggle to get to grips with the game and master the art of not rebounding your shots past the bottom of the screen at the earliest opportunity.
All in all, it’s a solid package. There may not seem to be much there, but the core game modes are so deep that the game just keeps calling you back to try and beat your scores. It doesn’t hurt that the game is pretty, riffing heavily on the Geometry Wars aesthetic that has been so popular since, well, Geometry Wars came out, all those years ago. It is a shame that the effects weren’t clawed back a little, though – there are particle effects à gogo, and the more rebound-heavy shots can be impossible to follow thanks to the deluge of glowing lights, streaming trails and explosions. Still, this is a minor issue, and never affects the core part of the game – i.e. the lining up of shots.
It’s not the cheapest game to be released on Windows Phone (and is yet another port of an iPhone game), but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality. Highly recommended.
Orbital xBox Live Achievements
- Bring it on (5 points): Destroy your first Orb.
- Pure Fun (10 points): Destroy 15 Orbs in one Pure game.
- Beam them up (20 points): Destroy 50 Orbs in one Gravity game.
- Burst into Space (15 points): Earn 200 points in one Supernova game.
- Near Death Experience (5 points): Receive “That was close” in one game.
- Double Bouncer (10 points): Accomplish ten Double Hits in one game.
- Triple Bouncer (15 points): Accomplish ten Triple Hits in one game.
- The game got me (15 points): Finish 25 games.
- Addict (30 points): Finish 100 games.
- Space is needed (10 points): Place ten Orbs on the playing field.
- Aaand another one (20 points): Place thirty Orbs on the playing field.
- A Friend of mine (10 points): Play a Multiplayer game with a friend.
- BFF’s (15 points): Finish 10 local Multiplayer games.
- I got the game (10 points): Destroy 5 Orbs in one game.
- Survivor (10 points): Receive “That was close” three times in one game.
Orbital Gameplay Video
Version Under Review : 188.8.131.52
Website : Orbital-game.com, Twitter : @bitforge
There is a trial version available and the full version is available for $2.99, we are not sure what are the limitations of the trial version.
Our Rating for Orbital