There's a simple joy in playing minimalistic physics-based games that are anchored on ingenious game engines. Osmos is one such treat that's developed by Hemisphere Games. The premise is simple - you gain control of a small ball of mass called a 'mote' and your goal is to become the biggest. To do so, the mote can absorb other globs of mass that are smaller than it, but if it touches one that's larger, it gets absorbed, ending the game.
The game takes place in a void, where there's no motion. To move, the mote has to expunge small bubbles of mass, making it shrink in size. Since your goal usually is to grow, there's strategy involved in moving in the right direction. For instance, if you see a mote that's just a little smaller than you and far away, it may take quite a bit of your own mass to propel yourself to the other mote, which could end up making you smaller than the glob of mass, making your journey to the other side of the screen pointless. So you've got to try and absorb as much mass, while moving as little as possible to gain maximum benefits.
The game's style is similar to the likes of flow - minimalistic, but stylish and sharp. The game plays with a color palette that's high in contrast - from the black background, to the bright purple, blue and red of the globs around you. The mellow, slow-paced electronic music by various artists adds to the decently high production values, and the over-all calming and 'trippy' effect of the game. However, in levels that are more perilous than calm, the music tends to seem out of place.
The difficulty of the levels scale when more elements are added to the mix. For instance, there are enemy AI controlled motes that that try to grow larger than you are and absorb you. It challenging and it feels incredibly rewarding to maneuver around, dodging the larger ones, then absorbing them when you're larger. Some levels are more complex, where you have to sacrifice a little mass in order to shrink and squeeze through smaller spaces. Other levels involve playing the waiting game, as you watch larger globs clear the way for you in their own sweet time. Thankfully, you have the ability to slow or speed up time. Once you've mastered this, it's a tremendous help since it allows you to do everything from dodging larger motes even while you're moving fast (by slowing time), or moving fast even by propelling yourself just a little (by speeding time up).
Eventually, more gameplay elements gets thrown into the picture such as anti-matter. If a glob of anti-matter and matter meet, the larger one destroys the small, rather than adding the latter to itself. You also encounter motes called attractors, that suck you into their orbit, setting a fixed trajectory for you in order to maneuver along. Unfortunately, in-spite of all these small variations, the fact that the game's visual style is repetitive gets to you. Even though the game's fun, it can get boring if you play it for long, especially when the levels start getting rather difficult.
Osmos has its share of flaws, but its amazing design, production values and ingenious gameplay out-weigh them without a doubt. The low price of $10 (Rs. 450 approx.) make it a must buy for those who enjoy unique/indie or physics based-games. If you wish to give it a shot, a demo for the game, as well as the full version's available on Steam.
Updated 20 May, 2013, 8:22 pm IST
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