Orbital

The bit Generations series, of which this is a member, is part of Nintendo’s mission to make games simpler. Not as simple we need though: it took us about a week to realise that pressing select lets you scroll freely around the level. The game only uses two other buttons. We have no excuse.

Orbital screenshotThose two buttons are used to exert mild attractive and repulsive forces, the game working on a strange version of Newton’s first law of motion, under which the body you control generally travels with constant velocity unless you decide to apply one of the aforementioned forces.

Celestial bodies in the systems which form the game’s levels come in several varieties. Red bodies are big and should be avoided, but can be orbited and their mass used to navigate in the manner described above; grey bodies are small and can absorbed by or made to orbit the body you control; blue bodies can be absorbed, and will add mass sufficient to absorb larger bodies; eventually one of the bodies turns yellow, and getting that in orbit completes the level.

A convoluted explanation of what is, after five minutes of playing the thing, a very intuitive game, there.

Early levels tend to comprise small numbers of largely independent bodies, but before long you’re presented with terrifying systems of complex intersecting and nested orbits. The very idea of having any say in where your body goes through some of these systems is initially laughable, and there is a need to develop better, more careful ways of getting around. Most levels respond best to gentle input and just not smashing into massive red planets repeatedly, but there’s a place for gung-ho attitude, and it’s to the game’s credit that it gives you that degree of control.

The game asks a lot of you: squeezing through tiny gaps between moving objects without direct control is no mean feat. But, despite a couple of levels treading the line, it never crosses into unfairness. The unfussy presentation helps – if there were lengthy elaborate explosions every time you impact with another body, we might have been less inclined to persevere.

But persevere we did, the rewards coming in triumphing over physics in situations which at first look impossible. And there are few joys so pure.

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