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Orbital (iPhone application)

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      08.03.2010 17:40
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      A great slice of old-style retro gaming

      If, like me, you're really old you probably hanker for the pioneering videogame days of the eighties, when graphics and sound were primitive, everything was crammed into ridiculously low amounts of memory and games had to rely on inventive and addictive game play to get you to part with your cash. The makers of Orbital clearly agree with you. Like so many great games, the objective behind Orbital is simple (although a little tricky to explain.) The action takes place in a rectangular play area. You control a gun which rotates on a horizontal axis. Just above you is a line (the Death Line). You have to shoot bombs from your gun which, when they stop will expand into a circle until they come into contact with something else (another circle, the wall of the play area etc). Each bomb must then be hit a number of times by another bomb before it explodes. For each bomb you successfully get rid of, you score a point; if one stops below the Death Line, it's Game Over. Take one look at Orbital and you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Simplistic line drawing graphics and fairly minimal sound will lead some to dismiss it as "rubbish" before they've even tried it. Play one game of it, though, and you'll be instantly hooked by its simple, but well-balanced addictive game play. Orbital plays so well it is an absolute joy. Controls are incredibly intuitive and can be picked up in an instant. When the canon reaches the point where you want to fire a bomb, you touch the screen and off it flies. It's so simple and intuitive that you can hold your iPhone in one hand, using your thumb to fire bombs. This makes it very comfortable for long gaming sessions... which is just as well, because the game is incredibly difficult to put down. Importantly, the controls are highly responsive. You can be confident that as soon as you tap the screen, the bomb is fired - essential for a game like this which relies on pin-point accuracy to get really high scores. If you die, it's because you misjudged your move, not the result of the game being "unfair". There is a real skill element to the game and, like most great games, it is easy to pick up and start playing, but difficult to master. The difficulty level is well-pitched, though, and it's one of those games that rewards practice. For my first few goes, I was getting scores of around 10, which gradually began to creep up to 20, then 30 etc. The more you play, the more you improve and your average score will slowly creep up, encouraging you to play on and see if you can't get even better. The game physics are perfectly balanced too. You can bounce your bomb off existing circles in the play area or get rid of potentially problematic circles which are blocking your path. The game engine is very accurate, so that you can work out the exact impact of your shot and the direction each bounce is likely to take. This removes random factors from the game and adds a real element of strategy. Before you let fly with your bomb, you need to work out exactly what ricochets will occur and adjust your shot accordingly. The bigger circles even distort the playing area around them, so in some game modes you can use their gravity to "sling shot" your missile around obstacles and get to those out-of-the reach areas. Sure, graphics and sound are not going to win any awards, but they are functional and clear. Circles are multi-coloured and glow brightly and, even with the smallest circles, it's easy to pick out the number inside them which tells you how many times you need to hit it before it explodes. A pleasant tune plays in the background and whilst is actually quite soothing to listen to. There's a smattering of robotic speech, perfectly suited to the game and which adds to the atmosphere without being intrusive, whilst the explosion sound effects are pretty meaty and satisfying. For such a simple, cheap game, Orbital provides a good variety of game modes. Gravity mode is the version described above (and my favourite). In Pure mode, your missile flies in a straight line and is not affected by gravity, removing the ability to "slingshot" your bombs round an awkwardly placed object. Finally in Supernova mode, each circle must be hit 5 times, rather than the usual three. This last one is slightly different in that you get a "target line" protruding from your gun to show the line your missile will take. You need to hold your finger on the screen to line up your shot, and then release it to fire the bomb. I find this less intuitive than the standard mode and it's all too easy to accidentally fire a bomb and mess up your game. This is my least favourite mode as it lacks the "pick up and play" simplicity of the other versions. As if that wasn't enough, you can also play all the different versions as a one or two player game on the same phone, whilst a separate online mode lets you pitch your skills against other players anywhere in the world. I haven't tried this, so don't know how easy it is to find an opponent online, but if the polished nature of the main game is anything to go by, it will have been well implemented. Add to this other extras, such as an online High Score table which allows you to compare your score with the best players of all time or even the best from the last 24 hours and this is a game which offers a lot of options. The best thing, though? It's only £1.19 to download from the App Store. I'd buy it quick if I were you, before the authors come to their senses and decide to charge more! This is, quite simply, one of the most addictive games on the iPhone. It might not be the best looking or the best sounding, but as far as that all important game play is concerned, Orbital hits the bull's eye. I honestly can't find anything bad to say about this game. It's incredibly addictive that I often find myself firing it up for a quick game and am still playing it an hour later. Maybe that's the only downside: if you're not careful you'll find it will steal large parts of you life from you! If you're looking for a game which shows off the technical abilities of the iPhone, this is not that title. If you're looking for something which captures the sense of fun of innovative old time games, download it now! © Copyright SWSt 2010

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