0RBITALIS is game all about flinging a satellite into the orbit(s) of various gravitationally significant bodies and trying to keep it within the boundaries of the onscreen star system for a distinct handful of seconds. It's a simple-but-tricky little game, and it requires a fair amount of thought. You can't simply bumble in and hope for the best beyond the first few levels.
The game was originally conceived by Alan Zucconi for Ludum Dare 28 last year, and the theme of the game jam was "You Only Get One".
In the case of 0RBITALIS, that "one" refers to the satellite itself. You only have one shot at plotting the course and measuring out the power of projection, and then it's up to physics to decide what happens to your little space module. You move the cursor to alter your trajectory, and then launch your craft with a single click.
Most of the time it'll crash into the nearest sun and you'll have to start again.
You can nab a taste of the original game over on Newgrounds, but the Early Access build has been sharpened up in the graphical department, and boasts plenty more levels. In a cute little touch, progression is actually charted across the skies in the form of a star map, and things get increasingly more fiendish as you move from one level to the next. At first you're just dealing with single objects in space, but before long there are multiple planets and stars and other satellites to worry about. And then, just when you think you've got the hang of things, the game throws in polarised bodies that repel your little satellite, causing all sorts of havoc and forcing you to rethink everything you just learned.
It's really quite marvellous, and the aesthetics are simple and clean, but efficient and functional. Little arcs show you the beginnings of your projected flight as well as mapping out the paths for the other celestial bodies around you. Quite often the perfect flight is all about choosing the right moment to launch, particularly when you start dealing with planets that boast inconsistent gravitational fields.
Probing missions are fiendish things, with the completion clock only counting down the time you spend within a vastly decreased field. You have to work your way in and out of target fields very careful. Then there are the scanning missions that see you firing satellites towards targets, using gravitational fields to steer past obstacles, and timing your release down to the millisecond. The star-filled chart that forms your progression map also holds little easter egg levels, one of which has you attempting to fling your satellite through a series of geometric shapes in as fast a time as possible.
It's all incredibly well put together, aided by some cracking noise work from Doseone, who also worked on Samurai Gunn. The ambient background noise provides the ethereal, "spacey" tone, as fuzzy stabs and electronic pings augment the happenings onscreen very nicely indeed. The spartan electronic soundscape blends wonderfully with the minimalistic visual aesthetic, and it's easy to get wrapped up in 0RBITALIS to the extent that you'll look up and realised that an hour or two has already gone past. For a game that will surely make a jump to mobile devices and to exceedingly well there thanks to its level-based, pick-up-and-play appeal, it can hook you in for longer periods too.
I'm eager to see how 0RBITALIS progresses. There are fifty levels at present, and the game will go onsale on Steam for £2.79, which seems very fair indeed. It's a simple yet inventive little gem of a game, and even with the slim player base ahead of the Steam launch, I found myself replaying levels to shave milliseconds off of my time and increase my leaderboard standing. Thanks to the elegant mechanics, more levels would certainly be one way to go, and an editor would seem to be a no-brainer. But equally, I'm not entirely sure why the game isn't just releasing fully. What is here certainly justifies the price tag, and it'll be interesting to see what Zucconi is planning to add to the package over the coming weeks.
In the interim, mind, purchase with confidence if you like your quirky puzzlers.
The Early Access version of Alan Zucconi's 0RBITALIS hits Steam at 4PM today, and you can pick it up for £2.79 when it does.