Version Reviewed: 1.0
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Few games are more brutal and frustrating than Orbital, yet there are few games that I come back to more often. Orbital takes a relatively simple, unoriginal gameplay concept and puts a few unique twists on in to create this truly glass half full, glass half empty game.
Orbital, at its core, is a simple physics game. You shoot balls out of a cannon, and once these balls come to rest, they expand into a sphere until they are stopped by either a wall or another sphere. At first, all of the spheres will have a counter of 3 on them, signifying the number of hits needed to clear the sphere from the board. Once you hit that sphere with enough balls launched from your cannon, it bursts and disappears from the playing field. Your cannon, which is located at the bottom of the screen, automatically rotates from side-to-side, and tapping anywhere on the screen launches a ball. Shortly above your cannon is the line of doom. If your ball happens to have the misfortune of bouncing back and crossing the line, your game is over. The game is merciless; one mistake, and all your hard work is for naught. Don't be surprised if you routinely get scores of one or two. The scoring is simple, but perhaps too simple - every sphere cleared from the playing field adds one point. Though the game announces combos, you are not given any bonuses for them- something I would like to see implemented as it would add an extra strategic layer.
Orbital has two gameplay variations - pure and gravity. Pure is the traditional mode that will be familiar to most and all physics are normal. Gravity is a unique mode in which spheres add gravitational forces to the playing field.
Thus, balls can curve, and this tends to be the easier mode, and certainly my favorite, as balls are usually attracted away from the line of doom. Both modes are integrated with both online all-time scores and 24 hour scores, and you can challenge your friends through Facebook. There is also a nice "hot-seat" multiplayer in which two cannons are juxtaposed on either side of the playing field and players alternate shooting balls out of their respective cannons.
Snazzy graphics do a great job of dressing up this simple game. The retro-neon looks fantastic, and there are snazzy particle effects in no short supply. These graphics, however, come with a small price - there are occasional but noticeable frame rate drops (at least on my iPhone 3G). In addition, there are major camera issues. The camera zooms in when a ball gets close to the line, but often the ball will bounce away quickly, causing the camera to jarringly zoom out out. The camera also needs to wait till the ball is a bit closer to the line to zoom in, as frequently the zoom is activated while the ball is still far away. The audio is good, if slightly limited. Sound effects are good, and the music is pretty nice, but there is little variety.
The bottom line for the simple, "quick-play" game of this nature is whether you want to play it again, and the answer for Orbital, though it can be brutally frustrating at times, is an unequivocal "yes." Sure, there are similar games out there for less than the asking price of $2.99, but the combined allure of the snazzy graphics, unique gravity mode, and online feature set make Orbital worth the extra cash.