Orbient

Orbient is a close cousin to Spore. Where Will Wright's creation sim dances around the idea of evolution without really resorting to education, this downloadable offering for the Wii toys with celestial mechanics. Players are responsible for a single orb adrift in space. The game is played with two buttons, one that creates gravitational attraction, and another that generates repulsion. Playing Orbient isn't really a matter of control, but of exerting force. The game's puzzles come by way of increasingly intricate and dangerous solar systems. Spinning planets, moons, and space rocks create treacherous mazes, which players must navigate without collision. The goal is to absorb similarly sized planets, pick up smaller rocks and moons as satellites, and eventually hook up with the sun. Once these simple goals have been accomplished, Orbient encourages players to make riskier maneuvers, attempting to nab bonus satellites for bonus points and extra lives. The urge to take risks in return for great rewards is substantial.

Some of the game's best moments come when you're simply surfing the cosmos. If you approach a larger body at the right angle, you hear a satisfying chime, and you can then settle into a steady freefall around the object. It's much more fun, though, to come barreling toward a planet at breakneck speed, then use the slingshot effect to whip around its backside. Kirk and company pulled off a similar maneuver to travel through time in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Mastering Orbient, sadly, will do very little to save the whales. But the game's 50 increasingly diabolical scenarios will give you greater appreciation for the rocket scientists responsible for getting probes to Mars without cratering in the dusty Martian soil.

Beyond the game: Orbient was originally released in Japan on the Game Boy Advance as part of a stylish budget line called bit Generations. Others entries included Coloris, a puzzle game with a soundtrack by Cornelius, and Soundvoyager, an experiment in directional audio that could be played with eyes closed.

Worth playing for: Each heavenly body you capture generates a sound effect. Lock down a handful of these prizes, and they sound a shimmering harmony akin to the music of the spheres.

Frustration sets in when: The game's elegant conceit falls apart once new obstacles and puzzle configurations tend away from nature and science.

Final judgment: Revolutionary.

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