Preview: 0RBITALIS

The Ludum Dare game jams have a history of producing innovative and interesting games, made under a rushed 48 hour window with a set theme to push developers to create something under pressure. Ludum Dare 28’s theme, ‘You Only Get One’, inspired developer Alan Zucconi to create 0RBITALIS (Yes, that’s a zero), a puzzle game come gravity simulation set in outer space.

• Developer: Alan Zucconi
• Publisher: Mastertronic
• Reviewed on: PC
• Release Date: Out Now (Steam Early Access)

In the game, you are presented with a series of localised stellar bodies orbiting each other, with your aim being to launch a satellite and use the gravity of the surrounding planets or stars to navigate and complete one of the varying objectives, such as keeping the satellite alive for a certain amount of time, or destroying meteors. All the control you are granted is a limited aiming trajectory and one mouse-click to launch, after which point you leave the fate of the satellite in the hands of a realistic physics engine. You’ll use the forces at work to slingshot around and past obstacles, inspired by the actual methodology of planning spacecraft routes.

The trial and error gameplay relies on a mix of studying the forces at work in each scenario and playful guesswork that inevitably means crashing and burning dozens of times for many of the missions. Luckily, this procedure is fairly addictive rather than frustrating for the most part, and you’ll find yourself compelled to fire off again and again.

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You’ll do all this through the vignetted view of a minimalistic space-race-era viewfinder, looking down upon an arrangement of basic shapes surrounded by ethereal glows that quickly become a language informing you of the gravitational force emanating from each body. Upon firing your satellite, you’ll be treated to a red ribbon trail following it, not unlike the pattern made by one of those spinning felt pens we all had at some point in our childhood. The visuals really help the game to stand out, and are very effective at making a seemingly simple concept become an immersive puzzle experience. This is also in large part due to the ambient sound design by musician Doseone, whose droning static and digital flourishes create a classic stellar sound that has the magical quality of giving you the familiar feeling of being in a place most of us have never experienced and will never get to in our lifetime.

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The challenge is continuously upped as you progress through the decent number of scenarios, throwing in new elements such as gravity-repellent objects and binary stars that alternate emitting any force at all. You’re left alone to discover and tackle these mechanics, and 0RBITALIS does a good job of introducing these consistently all the way to the end of the game, never overloading you with too much to grasp at once.

HD 09

You can navigate the puzzles along a simple star map, following constellations grouped by similarly themed challenges with a kind of boss level at the end of each route, and go back to tackle them again in order to up your score on the leaderboard for each level, which can be quite compelling. The main sets of puzzles won’t take you too long to complete, but there are amusingly well-hidden bonus ones that I didn’t discover until late on in the game, even though they’d been in front of me the entire time. The extra levels take the challenge to a fairly bonkers point though, and the high level of precision requires many restarts and lay on the frustration, but will keep you trying to beat them for a good while.

HD 11

0RBITALIS is a enjoyably diversionary puzzler/sim with a balanced challenge. Though the gameplay can lean too far towards trial-and-error at points, its eerie simple aesthetic and addictive one-shot mechanic keep you playing. Though short and lo-fi, the game only comes in at £2.79/$3.99 and feels well worth the small asking price. It’s unclear what will be added to the game before release other than more puzzles, but give it a try anyway as it’s worth paying in its current state.

Official Game Site

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