You’ve played tons of physics-based puzzle-games — you’ve survived mountains of endless-runners — and likely even suffered through infinite match-three clones, yet you’ve probably not seen something like IKC’s Orbits 101 (out now, free). Hopefully you bothered to pay attention during your college level physics-courses, as you’re otherwise going to have a maddening time aiming for success at Orbits 101’s brutal-premise. Congratulations: you’ve just been placed in charge of a rocket-ship tasked with exploring the entire cosmos, the big catch is that your rocket-ship’s thrusters may only be fired purely forwards or backwards!
Tapping the screen’s left-hand side will slow you down, and tapping the screen’s right-hand side will speed you up, yet your mission to boldly journey forward isn’t likely to be as easy as it might initially sound. You’ll begin Orbits 101 — much as the game’s title suggests — already in orbit around a planet, meaning you’ll never truly be travelling in a straight-line (either forwards or backwards). Especially since you’ll regularly find your rocket-ship striving to safely thrust itself past plenty of other planets, each of which viciously project their own flight-path distorting gravitational-field!
Your primary mission is to continue travelling upwards, with the player’s score — which is calculated upon failure — being the number of planets they managed to safely journey past before disaster occurred. This failure will transpire either when they’ve struck a planet, or after their rocket-ship has been flung off either of your iDevice’s two sides (apparently there’s no planets existing out there with which you might’ve sent yourself back). Thankfully there’s a line showing a preview of your projected-course, and it’ll even turn red when you’re on a path leading towards certain demise, however — thanks to the realities of gravity — this warning won’t always offer ample-time for saving yourself.
Beyond merely trying to keep yourself alive, which will be a new challenge each and every time — considering the game’s always randomized planetary arrangement — there will also be stars for players to collect. Thankfully these stars are generally found in orbit around planets — rather than off in the void — meaning that you’ll never be asked to commit probable suicide just to grab them, and even then they’ll often prove hard to grab. In theory you’re supposed to be able to use these to eventually unlock different spaceships to fly around with, but currently this feature — as far I could tell — isn’t yet properly functional (presumably this would be patched in a later update).
Ultimately this game is downright brutal, with most players likely needing to go through a couple metric tons worth of failure — coupled with careful deliberate observation — before they finally begin completing runs successfully reaching into the double-digits. Many of you are not going to want to remain utterly-frustrated long enough in order to come to terms with Orbits 101’s unique premise, although being offered for absolutely free — and furthermore supported just by ads — certainly helps to counterbalance the risk. Yet for some of you this could truly be the unique — solidly controlling — experience you’ve been searching for, at least so long as you can also put up with the game’s admittedly low key visual-presentation.
Although I do want to reiterate that — assuming you pick this up — the initial learning-curve is soul-crushing, to the point where Orbits 101 nearly received a far grimmer proclamation (if I can’t understand a game’s controls, I’m going to score it accordingly). I know it really doesn’t sound as though a game with inputs only for accelerating and breaking could honestly be that hard to control, but you’d be surprised just how unforgivingly mean dealing with planetary slingshots can actually be. Yet this difficulty — once I grasped it — was also what I most respected about the game afterwards, as it was a consistently-controlling app with a premise you don’t often see pretty much anywhere.
Except for maybe the lauded-by-even-NASA Kerbal Space Program (and in the grander scheme of things, Orbits 101 is probably the easier game by a couple light-years worth of magnitude).
In a time where endless-runners — puzzle-games starring catapult-physics — and match-three titles seem to be absolutely everywhere on the App Store, IKC’s Orbits 101 could certainly be seen as a solidly-controlling breath of fresh-air. Unfortunately this free-offering has been coupled with an ultra-brutal learning-curve, but — then again — they don’t call the art of successfully steering a spaceship “rocket-science” for nothing. Players must strive to see how long they can slingshot their rocket-ship from one planet to the next — without crashing, or flying off into the void — a premise guaranteed to delight some, yet equally likely to drive most off long before they’ll ever truly grok the controls.