I don't recommend games often, but one I've been playing a surprising amount recently is Orbital
for the GBA, and I feel like it's one of the rare times I'd absolutely recommend a game to the majority of people I know who like interesting experiences.
I should note before starting that I've been playing the Gameboy Advance version that was a part of the Japan-exclusive bit Generations
series, which was handled mostly by Skip - same people behind Chibi-Robo
- though there was also a WiiWare port/reimagining in the form of Orbient
that was released worldwide under the Art Style
series (again, handled by Skip.) Given the Wii Shop has been closed for several years and the GBA title is a rare, low-selling Japan-exclusive title in a limited series at the end of its console's lifespan, it's also unfortunately not very easy to get your hands on, unless, well. You know.
That aside, Orbital
is honestly a very fun experience. If I had to compare it to something more recognisable, I'd say it has a similar sort of baseline concept to something like Angry Birds: Space
combined with Agar.io,
but coupled with a calm and relaxing atmosphere, a great minimalistic feel, and interesting gravity-based mechanics that make the game a weird puzzle of sorts.
You're essentially a small planet of some description that floats around space, and must "consume" other planets in order to grow in size. Furthermore, it's possible to get caught in the orbit of planets larger than you, or catch smaller planets in your orbit (which gives you extra lives), and you beat each level after capturing the yellow planet in your orbit. Your controls are exceptionally limited - one button for each command, allowing you to "attract" or "repel" from nearby gravitational fields. This, whilst simplistic, allows for the game's physics and unique situations to put you in sometimes complex scenarios where you actually really struggle to complete it, mostly because if you crash into objects larger than yourself, you lose a life.
I feel the only problem with Orbital
in its current form is the limitations of its own hardware - the music, whilst intending to capture the peaceful tranquility of space, can sometimes sound a little tinny or uncomfortable, and that's mostly due to the GBA's soundchip. It's also sometimes possible for the "launch" of momentum you get after hitting an object to launch you directly into another, especially in the later busier stages, but it's not too common. Aside from that, I'd totally recommend this as a great casual experience for both challenge and just an interesting concept. Well, I would, except I don't think I can, as I've mentioned.
I feel like Nintendo's puzzle games in general are an aspect of their output that isn't discussed nearly enough, in my personal opinion, and if I'm honest - I feel this sort of style would lend exceptionally well in the modern gaming climate to Nintendo's (now pretty-much ceased) gaming output on mobile devices. Whilst the bit Generations
and Art Style
series specifically have both been dead for over a decade at this point, I think it's a bit of a shame that these sorts of ideas haven't come back - though a part of that might be due to Skip's... hardships following Chibi-Robo Zip Lash.
I feel like these experiences (and this era of Nintendo in general) is a particularly interesting one to dive into, and has a lot of concepts that I think would work a lot better today. The bit Generations
series especially was originally intended as a "coffee table gaming experience", the sort of video gaming experience that you could use as a conversation-starting "art piece" of sorts, hence their unique boxes, marketing, and design. Even the Art Style
series was intended as an exploration of "Vision" and "Sounds", allowing these to be key experimental focuses of the design through interesting takes on previously obvious points (like with Base 10,
a puzzle game inspired by 7-segment LCD displays).
That sort of formula feels almost kind of missing from modern Nintendo - logical, honestly, but I feel like the Switch specifically would work really well for this sort of "arthouse" feel from a couple of games. The closest I think we've gotten with it so far is possibly 51 Clubhouse Games
, but that's not quite it either. Say what you will, but I think small-scale downloadable titles with this kind of appeal and feel would be a welcome presence as a part of Nintendo's offerings. Admittedly, I'm not a CEO or a marketing expert - and the audience for this kind of experience wouldn't be the largest out there - but Nintendo releasing smaller-scale puzzle or even experimental titles on the eShop feels like it'd have a wider degree of appeal than it might seem at first glance.
So, yeah. Ramble over. Overall, I'd give Orbital
an 7/10 - addicting gameplay and a really unique feel and style are only tempered by the difficulty in getting a hold of it in the first place, as well as the slightly unappealing sound design and the occasional cheap deaths. Even so, I'd still want to recommend it regardless. It seems like a particularly fun take on the puzzle genre as a whole, and it's a microcosm of a really interesting period of Nintendo's own history that really doesn't get enough love overall.