Sunday, December 9, 2012

Michelin Game - Unknown Orbit

The idea of playing as a comet in a videogame may not come as instinctively to everyone, but Exbleative, the developer behind this new arcade space game has done just that to create a unique IOS experience that is both original and familiar.

In fact, Exbleative is largely a one man development team founded by Jay Weston, whose previous work was with Binary Space's Zombie Outbreak Simulator.

His new work, Unknown Orbit is a totally different beast. It has elements of Tiny Wings and the endless running influence of Temple Run all rolled into a new kind of game. I call it endless orbiting.

Essentially, you play a ice covered comet orbiting around 3 planets and picking up different objects to increase your multipliers, which in turn, accelerate your score. It is simple arcade gaming in its purest form.

Flying Comet

The objective is to score as many points before your comet's icy exterior is melted away completely by a nearby sun, at which point, the game simply ends. And that's it.

In between, you have ample opportunities to pick up additional ice blocks to survive longer and increase the size of your comet. The more ice you have, the longer you survive.

Additional power-ups include flying through a variety of colorful fireflies to build up speed to escape your main planet's orbit to reach the other 2 nearby planets or moons and score additional points in doing so.

Bouncing Off The Hilly and Colorful Slopes

Other achievements include floating in space for a certain amount of time and getting very high up into orbit until you almost reach a black hole, after which you will find yourself descending quickly back to your home planet and you start to the whole process of building speed to escape your planet's orbit once again.

Control is only tilt based, and you control your comet by maneuvering left or right to avoid having a heavy impact into the planet's surface, which will reset your multiplier to zero, which can be quite a bummer.

The only other control is just touching the screen to get achieve a steep and fast descent, and this is the one respect that reminds me most of Tiny Wing's mechanics. And the similar looking stripped hills and slopes only brings that resemblance out more acutely.

Shooting Off Into Orbit

While the game is easy to get into, the learning curve to really getting high scores does take a bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it, the thrill of swishing and swooshing down the planet hills can really be exhilarating.

In fact, the sense of speed is something that you have to experience to fully appreciate, and the game's framerate is nothing short of amazing. It is akin to taking a galactic roller coaster ride minus the coaster itself.

3 Difficulty Levels

Despite having only one game mode, there are 3 difficulty levels, where the harder levels will render the comet harder to manage and control. They will fly more erratic, but will have additional boosts and so forth.

There are 13 achievements to complete, and the standard Gamecenter rankings apply here as well. Beyond that, the game is just a joy to play as each game usually lasts between 3-5 minutes. Good for train rides and short trips in the car.

The sound effects are adequate, but the real standout here is the atmospheric guitar laden music that just gives this game its own distinctive mood. Every time you hit the ground, there will be an accompanying guitar twang, and when you land too hard, it actually plays a bit off key, which is really cool.

Beautiful, Surreal Graphics

Graphically, it is not rendered at full iPad Retina display, but scaled up from a lower resolution, but despite that, the planets and objects are all beautifully rendered, with good anti-aliasing, you do not miss the full retina resolution at all.

The main planet is rather odd looking and has a surrealistic feel about it, and the lighting is superb and very photorealistic. As mentioned, the smooth framerate adds a lot to the excitement of flying around in space and orbiting around planets.

The controls work for the most part, and while I wish the turning can have a bit of inertia to it, it is certainly not a deal breaker here, and once you get used to the controls, you will be zooming up into high orbits in no time.

Unknown Orbit may have been inspired by Tiny Wings, but as a game, it is probably the most original one I have come across in 2012, and gameplay wise, it is one that I have a hard time putting down recently.

You always want to go one more round just to try to get a higher score. And despite having only one main planet and 2 smaller ones, the gameplay never gets repetitive as every run is always different.

Wrapping up, Unknown Orbit represents the best of indie gaming on any platform out there, and clearly shows that great and innovative games can come from anywhere.

Unknown Orbit (US$0.99) - Click here to download.

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