Orbital Hands-On

Orbital is one of those games that looks a lot better than it needs to. At its heart, Orbital is a basic physics game where you ricochet balls around a small playing field, but from all the laser explosions and starry fields, you’d think you were playing a Star Wars shooter.

In our hands-on time with Orbital, we were originally perplexed by the low-scoring properties of this game. To earn a single point, you have to launch a ball onto the playing field, where it balloons into a larger circle, and then hit that same circle three more times to pop it.

Every ball you launch becomes an obstacle, and these circles will swell until they bump into a wall or another circle. It doesn’t take more than a few volleys to see the playing field lined with pinball bumpers that you placed there yourself by your own actions.

Your cannon moves back and forth automatically, and you simply tap the screen to fire at the right moment. The trick is, if your ball ends up coming back over the line right above your cannon, the game’s over, so you have to take care not to ricochet your shots back down to hit you.

Like we said, the visual style in Orbital is quite impressive for such a simple physics game. The rich, starry background is constantly moving like a Windows screensaver, and the mathematical space grid that overlays the game reminded us of Geometry Wars. On top of these simple layers are dazzling, whizz-bang laser light shows from every shot and burst bubble on the game field.

In addition to Pure Mode, where the direction of your shots is unaffected by the amount of spheres cluttering the screen, there is also a Gravity Mode where these larger obstacles will pull in your shots. Gravity Mode seems to be a bit easier, since your shots are less likely to escape their pull and end your game by coming back down over the line.

We also played a bit of multiplayer, which is pass-and-play only. The goal here is to block your opponent’s side of the field and force them to ricochet back across their own line, and points don’t matter. Facebook leaderboards will also let you brag about your best score, which may, if you’re somewhat skilled, reach the double-digits.

Orbital will be going for a $2.99 asking price in the App Store when it’s available later this summer. From our time with it, it’s looking to be a very smooth, simple physics game with a lot of added polish.