Review: Hemisphere Games Osmos for iPad
Once in a long while, a game comes along that's both so well executed and so different from everything else that players can't help but smile while moving from level to level. Hemisphere Games' Osmos for iPad ($5, version 1.6.1) is one of those games. On the surface, it has elements in common with titles such as the PlayStation 3 title Flow, the early stages of Electronic Arts' Spore, and the early Nintendo DS title Electroplankton, but its combination of iPad-maximizing graphics, relaxing audio, and ever-changing gameplay make it feel like a totally unique experience.
The idea: from an overhead two-dimensional perspective, you control a ball called a Mote sitting in a pool of fluid, and tapping in a direction relative to the Mote propels it in the opposite direction. Collide with something smaller and edible, and you grow; collide with something larger or inedible—like antimatter—and you shrink. If you disappear, you die, and if you grow large enough to absorb a specific target object or become bigger than everything else around you, you move on to the next level. An odyssey mode guides you through a sequence of 27 increasingly difficult challenges, while arcade mode offers variations on those levels at different difficulty settings, for a total of 72 levels.
Within the first half hour or hour of play, smart little touches such as the deadly antimatter Motes, a spinning gravity “attractor,” and screen resizing controls are unveiled, putting your tiny size in perspective while making obvious that Osmos isn’t as simple as it initially seems. Then, when Hemisphere unveils a simple on-screen time control feature—a swipe bar that speeds the action up or slows it down as you prefer—along with an explanation that the fluid you shoot out during propulsion not only shrinks you, but can be used to make other Motes move, Osmos shifts into genius territory. You’re not just controlling yourself, but other creatures and the flow of time, which adds some truly compelling strategy and flexibility to each level: move too slow relative to the Motes around you and you may find yourself the smallest creature in the pond merely by inaction. That the arcade mode allows you to randomize the elements within stages makes them even more interesting and challenging the second time around.
As with Flow and Electroplankton, the glowing, jellyfish-like elements are naturally eye-catching even in the absence of detailed backgrounds, though the combination of particle effects for your Mote’s propulsion and the iPad’s high-resolution screen really help the game to be more engrossing than it could have been on smaller devices. Seeing yourself grow and shrink fluidly with scaling effects—as well as seeing an entire level change size when you pinch or expand the screen—increases both the plausibility and the appeal of the artwork, as well. Hemisphere pairs the visuals with a gentle but high-quality electronic/ambient soundtrack that gives the action a feeling of class, and the touch controls seem completely natural, too.
Could anything be better here? Yes, as with all great games, there could be more of Osmos to play—once you’re done with the levels, you’ll be anxious for a sequel. And some might wish that the application was also iPhone- and iPod touch-compatible, though we’re fairly convinced that the game would be extremely difficult to properly duplicate on a screen with less surface area. From our perspective, what’s here completely justifies the $5 asking price, making impressive use of the iPad audio, visual, and control hardware without merely cloning a thousand other titles that have come before. Osmos merits our extremely rare flat A high recommendation, and should be a must-see for iPad owners who appreciate originality and class in game designs.