Art Style: Orbient, a WiiWare remake of a Japan-only “bit Generations” GBA game called Orbital, was the first game to launch in the US under the umbrella of the Art Style name. The concept behind the Art Style series is to take a simple, yet engaging core gameplay idea and present it with a minimalistic style at a low price. And with only two commands at your disposal, Art Style: Orbient is the very definition of simplicity. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that this makes it an easy game; Art Style: Orbient will test you, and it may even break you.
Conceptually, Art Style: Orbient shares a bit with the Katamari Damacy games. You start each stage as a small white star, and your goal is to maneuver yourself throughout space, absorbing similarly sized stars in order to grow. Stars are color-coded for your convenience; red stars are too large to absorb (yet) and will inflict damage if you run into them, blue stars are the perfect size to absorb and utilize for growth, and grey stars are stars that are no longer large enough to help you grow (you can still absorb them, but they do not affect your size.) Simply put, the more (blue) stars that you absorb, the larger that you grow, and the larger that you grow, the more stars that you can absorb. Growing larger will also open up the freedom to travel to otherwise impossible to access parts of the stage blocked by stars (to a limited extent.) This cycle continues throughout the course of each stage, until you inevitably become large enough to pull the giant sun into your orbit, which completes the stage. However, if you crash too many times before you can nab the sun, you will have to start again at the beginning of the stage.
Don’t stare directly into the sun. You might go blind. (Though probably not.)
Speaking of crashing, in addition to the stars, there are a few other objects of note floating around in Art Style: Orbient. Asteroids (in single or ringed formation) cannot be absorbed (nor do they exert gravity); they mostly exist just to get in your way. Black holes try to suck you in and steal your life. A single moon, generally tucked away in a difficult to reach spot, can be brought into your orbit, acting as a sort of optional additional challenge beyond merely completing a stage. And this is basically everything. Stars, asteroids, black holes, the sun (technically also a star), the moon, and the vast and empty void of space. I told you that Art Style: Orbient is the definition of simplicity.
If you’re imagining cruising through space, weaving in and out between objects at ease, you obviously weren’t paying attention above when I said that there are only two commands at your disposal in Art Style: Orbient. How do you control your star with only two commands? Well... you don’t. You see, it’s not your star that you control, but the gravity of the surrounding stars and black holes. Pressing the A button will make all surrounding stars and black holes pull you towards them, while pressing the B button will make them push you away (although in the case of black holes, they still exert a pull, it just lessens the pull a bit.) A large part of the difficulty of Art Style: Orbient comes in navigating the complex gravity fields created by multiple stars and black holes. For example, you may be heading towards the side of a star and decide to try to squeeze through a gap to the left of it. Do you push the A button so that it nudges you away a bit? Maybe. But what if there is a larger star on the other side of the gap that has a more powerful gravity push? Perhaps you should pull instead? And yet, there may be two or three or more other stars and black holes within your range, and how will they affect you?
Gravitons. Those made up things that science claims makes gravity work somehow.
“Wait just a second” you may be asking, “if I don’t control the star itself, how am I ever supposed to get to where I am supposed to be?” I’m glad that you asked, observant reader. In addition to the push and pull mechanics, you can also put yourself into the orbit of a larger star by approaching it at the correct angle. Once you get into the orbit of a star, the role of your buttons changes a bit. No longer can the gravity of the other stars affect you; instead, pushing the A button will bring you into a tighter orbit, while pushing B will widen your orbit (and, at a critical juncture, push you out of the orbit again.) Learning how to dive in and out of orbits becomes a crucial part of the navigation of space in Art Style: Orbient.
Although the audio and visuals of Art Style: Orbient are pretty basic, they are definitely not mediocre. On the contrary, they work together to create a low key yet powerful mood, one that fits perfectly with the grand emptiness of outer space. Admittedly, I think the soundtrack rises above the visuals. While the visuals can probably be described as merely “serviceable”, the soundtrack is pretty solid, although it works more in the background than in your face. And I don’t want to spoil anything, but the end credits song is just plain amazing.
This is about the extent of the visual flair. Pretty!
I enjoyed Art Style: Orbient a lot, but it’s not without some issues. There are times when the gravity pushes and pulls do not seem to work like you would expect them to, and at certain times the indirect nature of the controls will lead to certain situations where you are heading towards something in a way where neither pushing nor pulling can save you; you’re just plain screwed. In most cases this probably could have been avoided by better maneuvering earlier on, but still, it can feel frustrating to not have more control over your movement. You can also accidentally end up floating towards the void of space (which loops back on itself), and it may take awhile of floating through emptiness before you happen to float close enough to something to pull yourself back on track. The audio and visuals may turn some off as well, and whether you can appreciate them may have a lot to do with whether the “Art Style” concept of simplicity inherently appeals to you. This can probably be said of the core concept too, which is very limited, but I can’t find it in myself to consider this a flaw. I’d call it “focused”, rather, but if the concept doesn’t hook you, you may start to find the game repetitive.
Art Style: Orbient has about 40 stages spread out between multiple galaxies, and will take you about 3-5 hours to finish, perhaps even more if you shoot for the moon (literally) on every stage. This isn’t the meatiest game on the WiiWare service, but at 600 points ($6) it’s not a bad bargain at all. Art Style: Orbient manages to contain a unique blend of tranquility and challenge that is rare in the current video game market full of hand-holding casual games and (often hand-holding as well) visceral action games, and mastering it can almost feel zen. Between the Wii and DS there are many Art Style games, and I have played a fair amount of them, but the first one is still the best one, in my eyes. Sometimes it is worth getting lost in the deep stillness of space.
Nice review Zero; I really enjoyed this game and found the mechanics of using only two commands to control gravity very interesting and challenging!
I agree that the soundtrack is pretty solid and works great in the background while you are floating in space.
You can also accidentally end up floating towards the void of space (which loops back on itself), and it may take awhile of floating through emptiness before you happen to float close enough to something to pull yourself back on track.
Oh yes, this was a frustrating aspect of the game, for sure. Lots of times you're just 'waiting' to get back into the game when this happens.
I remember finishing the main levels, but then those extra levels were a bit difficult for me! I'll have to give another go one of these days (also to try to get more of the moons, though that doesn't unlock anything?).
So, your character isn't controlled manually, but rather influenced by the environment around it, as in Fluidity..or Donkey Kong's Crash Course? That is..extremely frustrating for me as I like to have direct control over my person as much as possible. I felt helpless while reading your review, and I'm not even playing. How do you do it?
Your last picture is really quite bright. Is that the end of the game? I expected much more darkness! Speaking of which, is the game totally scary? Do you feel super insignificant while playing? I can only look into the summer sky for so long before I start to get creeped out.