Wii

North America

Art Style: ORBIENT

by Jonathan Metts - October 7, 2008, 10:29 pm PDT
Total comments: 4

9

Meet the gaming equivalent of Dark Side of the Moon.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating with the headline for this review, let's survey some of the similarities between Orbient and Pink Floyd's legendary album, Dark Side of the Moon. Both are space-themed, obviously. Both feature repetitive, synthesized sounds. Both are much deeper than they first appear. Both are challenging and take a lot of time to fully appreciate. Both fluctuate between calm and pulse-pounding tempos. Both evoke pseudo-hallucinatory sensations (or maybe actual hallucinations, depending on your mental state). Both are utterly awesome.

In Orbient, your goal is to manipulate gravity to guide your little planet around a solar system, merging with other planets to grow larger and eventually capture a target planet. Everything is color coded so that you can easily tell which planets are larger (can be orbited), which are the same size (can be merged with), and which are smaller (can be captured as satellites). You have no direct control over your planet. Instead, you navigate through the solar system by activating gravity or anti-gravity from the planets nearby. The entire game is controlled with just two buttons – you don't need the joystick, D-pad, pointer, or motion sensors. How your planet moves depends on where it is and what's around it; the effects of gravity are always dynamic and usually hard to predict at a glance.

With its unusual control scheme and focus on growing to a target size, Orbient draws easy comparisons to Katamari Damacy. They really are similar games, although their aesthetics are totally different. Orbient is more puzzle-like, since there are usually just enough planets to reach the desired size, whereas Katamari overloads the player with things to collect, and the challenge is learning to prioritize and stay focused.

The game's adherence to actual laws of orbital mechanics is admirable but likely to confound many players. Did you know that planets move faster in lower orbits, or that you can catch a lagging satellite by moving to a higher orbit and then coming closer after a couple periods of phasing? These principles are vital to Orbient's gameplay, but the game has no tutorial or visual indication for the vast majority of players who have never taken an aerospace engineering course. Luckily, many of these arcane physical behaviors can be learned through trial-and-error, but the game may prove frustrating for a while before you start to grasp what's really going on.

The aforementioned aesthetic is a strange combination of outdated graphics and spare (but mesmerizing) music. The overall visual design is perfectly fine - it’s simple and low-key - but that's appropriate for the game. Not fine are the super-low-quality sprites that appear to have been blown up from their original GBA resolution. They make Orbient look like a PC game circa Windows 95. It's ironic that a game branded "Art Style" would have such crappy art. Thanks to the Hubble Space Telescope, we all know that space is a beautiful place. You wouldn't know it from looking at Orbient, though.

The music fares much, much better. Each stage starts with an ultra-simple melody that will play in the background throughout. As you collect satellites, other layers are added, and they increase in speed and complexity as your cluster expands. The music can become so fast and complex that it resembles a Philip Glass composition. And just when you think the next layer will be too much to handle, the sounds all merge together harmoniously. If you manage to catch a bonus satellite (a crescent moon), the previous music ceases in favor of a peaceful lullaby.

Orbient also gets my vote for having the most disturbing credits sequence of all time. It's a tiny dot growing slowly to overtake the entire screen, while the music gets louder and more frantic with no end in sight. Think of the intermission to 2001: A Space Odyssey and you'll have the right idea.

It should be clear by now that Orbient is not your typical game. The gameplay is simple but incredibly deep and addictive, and although you only need two buttons to play, there's nothing easy about navigating the cosmos. As an artistic experience, it achieves something special despite unnecessarily low-grade visuals. There's little else like it on Wii or any other platform, and that alone makes it worth downloading.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
3 9 9 9 8 9
Graphics
3

Orbient deserves some credit for a number of useful visual cues, and the overall art design is entirely appropriate. The actual art on display, however, is terrible.

Sound
9

Hallucinatory, dynamic music ventures into minimalist territory. It's weird, fascinating, and often disturbing, and it fits the game perfectly.

Control
9

With only two buttons required, there's nothing to screw up in terms of accuracy. Indirect, gravity-based control is a wonderful concept, but it can be perplexing in Orbient despite some good visual indications of what is going on.

Gameplay
9

Simple yet surprisingly deep, the concept endures through dozens of increasingly tricky levels. There's even a layer of high score strategy above and beyond the basic goal of getting to the next level.

Lastability
8

There are plenty of levels, though some have to be unlocked. The optional challenge of capturing the moon provides a nice incentive to try each level at least twice.

Final
9

Orbient is a unique experience and, moreover, it's a brilliant and fun game.

Summary

Pros
  • Engrossing, challenging gameplay
  • Tons of puzzle-like levels that are fun to replay
  • Trippy sound design
Cons
  • Low-quality graphics are distracting
  • May be initially obtuse
Review Page 2: Conclusion

Talkback

KDR_11kOctober 08, 2008

From a gameplay video I saw it looked like collected satellites are effectively out of play, i.e. cannot collide with anything and will not leave the orbit they're in no matter what forces you subject them to?

Jonny told me this was hot shit, and thusly, it has become my first WiiWare purchase (gasp). It is indeed hot shit. You guys should play it. It actually kind of reminds me of Pixeljunk Eden.

That's right, KDR.  Once you capture a satellite, it's taken out of play.  The two effects of satellites are to change the music and to give you more points and an extra life when you finish the level.

Nick DiMolaNick DiMola, Staff AlumnusOctober 08, 2008

I was heavily considering a purchase of this once I finished Persona 3, maybe I'll just jump the gun and get it tonight.

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Genre Puzzle
Developer Nintendo
Players1
Controllers

Worldwide Releases

na: Art Style: ORBIENT
Release Sep 29, 2008
PublisherNintendo
RatingEveryone
jpn: Art Style Series: ORBITAL
Release May 12, 2009
PublisherNintendo
RatingAll Ages
eu: Art Style: ORBIENT
Release Dec 19, 2008
PublisherNintendo
Rating3+

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