Review by Sketch Tucker
"It's Art Style... IN SPAAAAACE!"
Back in 2006, near the end of the Game Boy Advance's life cycle in Japan, Nintendo released a unique series of budget games focused around simple control, stylish design, and deep gameplay. It was known as the bitGenerations series, and there were seven titles released in all, most of which were developed by skip. But while America had placed a copyrighted name ("Digiluxe") on the series, it never left Japan.
Then Art Style emerged, as if out of nowhere, for the WiiWare service in America in 2008. Featuring the same basic values as the bitGenerations series, the Art Style series would pick up where it left off, providing new game experiences...as well as few familiar ones.
One of which is ORBIENT, a remaking/updating of the bitGenerations title ORBITAL. The original title was one of the most popular entries in the franchise, so in a way it isn't too surprising that it would be the first game to release in the series. It's just surprising that it arrived in America first.
You control a small planet as it floats across each stage, attempting to absorb same-size planets (marked in blue) to become bigger. As you become bigger, the smaller planets (marked in gray) can either be absorbed or, ideally, placed within your ring of orbit by traveling nearby. When you grow a particular size, the "goal" planet becomes marked in yellow, and you must attempt to make it orbit you in order to clear the stage.
All the while you're trying to avoid the bigger planets (marked in red), which could destroy your little planet in you run into them. But if you travel nearby, you may be able to enter *their* orbit, as another means to get around. You're also trying to avoid formations of assumed "asteroid" clusters, and the black holes which could pull you in if you're not careful. If you do crash into things, you lose lives, but respawn and retain your current size if you have at least one life in reserve. Lose all of your lives, and you will have to start the stage all over.
Many people look at the mechanic of collecting other planets to grow bigger in size and liken the experience to Katamari Damacy. But really, that small mechanic is where the parallel ends.
The most noteworthy detail about ORBIENT, outside of its core objective, is its control scheme. Rather than just moving the plant around freely with a directional pad, you only use two buttons; these either attract or repel your planet from nearby other planets. The concept of using other planets' masses to manipulate your planet's trajectory takes a little time to get the hang of. At first you may find yourself crashing into a lot of things trying to push away from or pull towards bigger planets, but you eventually begin to understand how it works. You'll also realize that the bigger your planet becomes, the harder it is to maneuver; aside from the larger size, it takes more time for gravity to affect its trajectory.
The experience is strangely serene and calming. The atmospheric sounds and relative emptiness of the environment present very little distractions. The music is nice to listen to, and slightly changes as you place small planets in your orbit...a nice touch. But just because everything appears calm doesn't mean it's going to be an easy game.
ORBIENT is a deceptive little game. As if controlling your planet isn't tricky alone, progressive stages have tougher planet layouts to maneuver through. Even skilled players will be facing a harsh challenge in this game, especially in the stages near the end. Many lives will be lost.
What's more, there's the additional crescent moon that will appear when you reach the goal size in a stage. The crescent moons function, for the most part, like normal planets. You're encouraged to pick it up in your field of orbit before collecting the goal planet, and if it is in your orbit when you complete the stage there will be a mark to signify it. Typically the crescent moons will be in a hard-to-reach area, and if you crash into the moon it will be knocked away, unable to be obtained again unless you start the whole stage over. It may be considered a secondary challenge, but it's actually a requirement to access later stages.
It's strange that ORBIENT somehow manages to be both calming and frustrating at the same time...an experience that many other games can't pull off. The minimalist presentation, a staple of Art Style games, is a key factor. And much like the original bitGenerations title, it could be considered a budget game, costing slightly more than a Virtual console NES game. It is highly recommended that you look into the game, as even in this iteration it stands out as a fresh idea, and one of the best of its series.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/01/10
Game Release: Art Style: ORBIENT (US, 09/29/08)
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