0rbitalis Review: A Soothing and Nuanced Space-Faring Puzzler

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0rbitalis provides a calm and collected space-based puzzle experience, a little thin on content but chock full of quality, challenge, and atmosphere.

As the video gaming industry gradually expands, so too does the variety of games on offer. Seasoned veterans can still take part in huge, open-world adventures such as The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, whilst this year's pioneering space exploration title No Man's Sky offers users 5 billion years' worth of space to explore. Meanwhile, those after solely multiplayer experiences have more choices than ever, with huge MOBA titles such as League of Legends catering to those after a PvP fix.

The growth of the digital market has also opened the door to independent developers looking to create small, but impressive, titles on a limited budget. Indeed, some of the most popular games of recent years have been created by tiny - or even individual - development teams, including the likes of Five Nights at Freddy's and Super Meat Boy. Now, another indie title looks to enter the market, the space-based gravity puzzle game 0rbitalis.

0rbitalis (with a zero) is the creation of solo developer Alan Zucconi, and tasks players with launching a satellite, using the gravitational pull of various space-bound objects to keep the craft alive. The player is given just one moment of active control during the Mastertronic-published game, with the gravity mechanics of 0rbitalis then moving the craft around the stage. The satellite must survive for the duration of the stage's time limit, or else face either crashing into one of the many entities or being sucked out into the void of space itself.

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One of the most impressive aspects of 0rbitalis is how visually striking it is. Players are met with a minimalist art style, made up primarily of simple shapes and lines in a limited color palette. Amongst the black of the void are red suns, white satellites and planets, and blue pulsar anomalies. It's an effective design choice, reminiscent of indie platforming hit Thomas Was Alone, resulting in atmospheric stages and clear indication of what objects to manipulate and what to avoid. Aside from the occasional frame rate issue, 0rbitalis is a joy to look at.

The aesthetic works perfectly with the title's sound design. The player's satellite launches to subtle, muffled bursts of sound, and a similar note will greet gamers if the probe crashes into celestial objects or flies out of orbit. In the background plays a charming and atmospheric ambient score from sound designer and composer Doseone, in a similar vein to Out There or FTL: Faster Than Light.

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Of course, none of that could save 0rbitalis if the gameplay itself failed to impress. Thankfully, the title delivers a unique and interesting puzzle experience. The player is only able to control their satellite for one moment, when choosing which direction to launch the craft. This results in tense moments after release, with the player helpless but to watch the satellite's trajectory as it gets manipulated by gravitational forces.

That said, the overall effect of the title is as far away from tension as possible, and players will no doubt feel calm and relaxed whilst playing 0rbitalis. Whether it's down to the title's aesthetic and sound design, or the lack of direct action required for the gameplay itself, 0rbitalis is undoubtedly a soothing experience. With a passivity that is overwhelmingly compelling, players can easily lose track of time whilst playing the puzzle title.

While the game may be a relaxing experience, its difficulty level is an altogether different beast. Indeed, 0rbitalis is a difficult game to master, where beating the timer by mere milliseconds brings with it a sense of accomplishment. There are plenty of dangers for a satellite in space, and it's easy to miscalculate and send the craft into the void of space or crashing into a planet or star.

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Patience is a virtue in 0rbitalis, and its minimalist nature betrays a larger complexity. Clearly, a lot of work has gone into getting the gravitational mechanics just right, and over time players will instinctively play with the gravitational fields of the different objects on each board. Even so, 0rbitalis still relies on plenty of trial and error to complete each stage, with players required to keep track of the orbit and pathways of numerous entities.

Despite this, 0rbitalis never becomes a frustrating game to play, even when faced with minefields of debris to avoid. The detachment from the action itself, along with the thoughtful, nuanced atmosphere in general, means that the game continues to be a joy to play for even long sessions. Because of this, 0rbitalis keeps up a bizarre longevity for an indie title of its type.

The gameplay is not the only reason that 0rbitalis will keep players occupied, either. Zucconi has also taken the step of including online leaderboards, giving gamers an overview of how their successful time compares to other players. With the top scorers having playtimes running for seemingly impossible amounts of time, it certainly provides an incentive for gamers to improve on their abrupt completion times.

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The content will eventually run out, however, and although players will be excited to better their place in the 0rbitalis hierarchy, that competitive streak will not last forever. Actual game content is a little thin on the ground, although with a low price point gamers will be hard-pressed to claim that they have not received enough bang for their buck. Indeed, it speaks a lot for the quality of the game that one of the chief complaints is that there is not enough of it.

All in all, 0rbitalis is a great success, providing plenty of fun alongside its wonderfully suited graphical style and pitch perfect sound design. Some players may feel put off by the lack of direct control involved, but those willing to take a back seat and enjoy the Spirograph-esque patterns unfurl will find the title highly rewarding. The space-bound title is no doubt a great addition to a puzzle fan's gaming library.



0rbitalis is out now for PC and Mac. Game Rant was provided a PC code for the game.

Our Rating:

4 star out of 5 (Excellent)
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