The universe is under the “treat” of a big bang, says Solar Zen’s introduction, which doubles as its App Store marketing copy. That phrase may only be missing an “h” but the game itself is missing a whole lot more.
As some sort of celestial being, your job in Solar Zen is to tilt and wobble your iDevice to guide the planets of the Zen Galaxy to safety. “Don’t let a single planet to perish!” the game helpfully advises. Okay, so maybe it’s a low blow to lampoon a game for having the worst text translation since Zero Wing’s “All your base are belong to us.” But then again, the words this game made us want to scream are unprintable.
It starts out mildly enough, with a top-down view of the galaxy, which consists of a circular playing field just wider than the iDevice’s screen, with a sun stationary in the middle and a planet sitting in a small bubble at the top. You swipe at the planet to send it into orbit around the sun, at which point the game’s awful physics take over.
We’ve written this game an orbituary.
Once in orbit, the planet floats along with the momentum of your initial swipe. Or that’s how it’s supposed to work. Sometimes a swipe sends the planet circling around the sun with an easy grace. Other times, the same swipe sends it slinking straight out of bounds, where it explodes like Alderaan in Star Wars. It’s a good thing that the planet immediately resets itself in its top-screen bubble– otherwise we’d feel bad for the countless millions who lost their lives to bad videogame controls.
When you manage to send the planet into a decent orbit, you tilt your iDevice to steer its path around the sun. The goal is to guide the planet around any black holes that appear and into a green circle of safety. Controlling one planet, while definitely not fun or intuitive, is something you can get used to. The game-ruining problem begins on stage six, when another planet comes into play.
On stages six and up, you’re required to send two planets into two green circles simultaneously. Because of the imprecise controls, this is teeth-grindingly difficult, and after several minutes of trying you’ll want to give up. Our advice: do. Because in later levels, once black holes start opening up, and you’re required to orbit the sun several times before the green safety zones appear, you’ll be pulling your hair out. To make matters worse, no new concepts are introduced past level six. From then on, the developers lazily ramp up the difficulty by recombining existing level elements.
The only saving grace in this game is the music; it’s driven by techno beats far more invigorating than the game itself. The sound effects aren’t up to par: when you beat a stage, the cool music stops and the game makes a noise that anywhere else would signal “game over.” And you’d be well advised to turn off this dud.
Putting the word “zen” in the title is an egregious offense to the word. “Solar Frustration” or “Solar Murderous Impulses” would have been more fitting. And if you’re not convinced yet, just watch the Youtube video from the developers. They can hardly play the game either.