Back in 2006, Nintendo published a series of games on the Game Boy Advance in Japan called bit Generations, which were a sister series to the DS’s Touch Generations games meant to illustrate the beginnings of video games. One of the games released in this interesting series was Orbital. It’s quite clear that Art Style: Orbient (or “Orbient” for short) is a remake of Orbital, but we don’t want to spoil the details of the game in the first paragraph.
Let’s begin with the premise: the bit Generations games really strip things down to the point where there is little to analyze except for the game itself, and the point of this game is rather simple. You assume the role of a little gray star, and must absorb stars of equal size (coloured blue) to grow and eventually become large enough that a “goal star” begins to glow yellow. Once this occurs, you must manoeuvre the grey star so that the goal star falls into your orbit to complete each stage. This is easier said than done, however.
Besides your little star, there are many other stars of various sizes within each stage. You can use the A and B buttons (sorry, no waggle) to use gravity and anti-gravity respectively to pull and push your star around the level. This helps avoid obstacles and allows you to bring your star into another’s orbit. Keep in mind that when you’re trying to move into another star’s orbit you need to come in at a gradual angle. If you’re on the right track, this will often be indicated by a curved dotted line on screen, but don’t rely on this as many levels require lots of adjustment in your trajectory. Once you’re locked in orbit a little white line will circle around the larger star. To get out of a star’s zone of orbit (indicated by a red circle around it), simply use anti-gravity to push yourself out.
With all this said, it's probably wise that we provide you with some details about the types of obstacles within the game. The larger stars (which are always red) end up both helping and hurting you. Yes, they’re the main sources of gravity and anti-gravity, but many of them also hinder your direction, particularly when your gravity prowess causes you to run into them. Outside of these though, everything is out to prevent your progress. Asteroids (always purple) come in various forms (small, large, ring shaped, etc) and are often either in orbit or stuck to a set path. The other major obstacles of the game (and possibly the most deadly) are the black holes. These structures are naturally black in the centre, but you have to be careful since they have their own gravitational pull. When you are attached to the black hole's pull, purple streamlines appear that connect to your star. At all other times these lines just rotate around the centre of the black hole. Like planets, black holes do have anti-gravity, and you can enhance its pull by pushing the gravity button on your Wii Remote. If you get pulled into the centre you have to restart the level with one less hit.
Health in this game is indicated in the top right of the screen. Your star has a limited number of hits that it can sustain before it disintegrates into a shower of tiny pixels. There’s a little more to health, though, as each thing that you have orbiting your star when you beat a level awards you an extra hit that you either earn back or gain for the next one.
That's right, you can have other things orbit your star. First and foremost, when your star has grown to a point where it is larger than other stars, the other stars turn grey and you can make them orbit your own by passing them while having them fall into the “orbit circle” that appears when you’re near something that can fall into your gravitational pull. When these other planets do lock in, they trigger layers of a piece of music that gradually builds into a pretty nifty song (the song is the same for all the levels). Keep in mind that if you cause the yellow crescent moon (it only appears when the goal star has become active) to fall into your star’s orbit, it triggers its own little blurb of sound and cancels out that music you’ve been building up. The benefit of the moon, though, is that it awards bonus points at the end of the level, and if you beat all the levels with the moon in orbit, something special happens. That’s really all there is to the game and after a few minutes of play it won’t even feel as complex as we've made it sound.
A review wouldn’t be complete without the nitpickings though. Graphics-wise, we have to say that we came away quite disappointed. It’s not that we were expecting the most incredible 3D models of all time but considering this game has Nintendo’s name attached to it, the low quality visuals left us perplexed. To the game’s credit though, it is based on a GBA title that was meant to emphasize simplicity, and it has a really nice ethereal aesthetic that really stems from the merging of its look, sound, and gameplay.
The game is really more reliant on its sound and music design. Granted, there's the orbiting star's old-school symphony of greatness, but besides that there are only really short, basic, background loops. The sound effects are very nice though and almost catchy. There are also a couple of differences between Orbient and Orbital in addition to the updated graphics and sound. Orbient has a more zoomed in perspective than its portable counterpart, making navigation more precise. It is also worth noting that in the original game all the planets were fixed to their original location, whereas in Orbient many of the planets move about. Another difference is that the only indication of the pull and push of the planets in the original version was a small ring of coloured light (red for gravity, blue for anti-gravity) around the star, but in Orbient the planets that are pulling and pushing you are highlighted via particle effects.
Extras are available in the form of additional levels that range from very hard to extremely hard. These begin unlock when you beat the main game, but as far as collecting the moons are concerned, we can only speculate as to what you can unlock since we haven’t completely obliterated the game yet. The highlighting of niggles is almost over, but it's worth pointing out that there are no multiplayer or online modes in Orbient.
Putting our incessant nitpickings aside for a moment (and to be fair they are really observations as opposed to complaints) this game rocks. Many WiiWare titles lack depth, but Orbient nips that stereotypical quality in the bud. The game may be conquerable within a matter of hours but after a few levels the genius of the gameplay really starts to shine through. It’s great to see a bit Generations game be released outside of Japan that has improvements over the original, even if the changes are fairly meagre overall. You should strongly consider checking Orbient out. For a measly 600 Wii points, it would be rude not to!