In Hemisphere Games’ Osmos, you play as a hungry organism in a primordial soup of other growing and drifting orbs. Smaller organisms are absorbed by bigger ones when they touch, so it’s either absorb or be absorbed in this blob-eat-blob world.
Gameplay: In order to move quickly enough to catch smaller blobs and avoid the bigger blogs, you’ll need to expel more matter, becoming smaller and making the Osmos world more dangerous. But drifting aimlessly into the path of larger, predatory orbs has its own challenges.
For most of the game, Osmos is relaxing and beautiful with an enjoyably slow pace. There’s time to enjoy the swirling orbs and delicate soundtrack, all the elements I enjoyed in Music Catch and other ambient art games. But there’s still a goal, even if it’s the simple mellow goal to become the biggest, so there’s still a sense of challenge and accomplishment.
The basic game challenge is finding a balance between expelling enough mass to move at the desired speed, without expelling so much mass that you become small, easy prey. Later levels add twists on this basic eat-or-be-eaten, with various success. Some levels include intelligent orbs to either chase or escape, or gravity forces that change the paths of the orbs.
I did want some additions to the basic, enjoyable become the biggest challenge, but I wasn’t altogether pleased with some of the later levels. Certain levels require so much patience that it began to feel more like a tedious work assignment than a game. Sure, the right mouse button can slow down or speed up time, but either way there’s such a lot of waiting for orbs to collide. There’s an odd contrast between the relaxed music and floating orbs of Osmos, and the stress of some of the challenging levels.
Graphics: In the blobiverse, bigger blobs consume smaller blobs. Red blobs are bigger than you, and blue blobs are your size or smaller, which is visually simple and stunning. Other colors and patterns appear in later levels, and it’s hard not to zone out watching the dance of the Osmos. Later on, I had trouble spotting the black antimatter blobs on the black background, which may well be the point, but it didn’t add to the enjoyment of the game.
Overall, Osmos has great style… the branching menu tree of available levels seemed to resemble molecular structure, for another touch of artistic science. Even the name evokes cosmos and osmosis, adding to the scifi feel.
Music: The music in Osmos really is wonderful. This relaxing ambient blend is somehow more that background music, without ever dominating the game. The musical pieces come from a variety of different artists, creating a varied but cohesive soundtrack.
Lasting Appeal: Osmos comes so close, but ultimately just misses the mark. Intensively challenging levels ruin the mellow mood, but too many become the biggest levels seem repetitive. A near-perfect short game becomes an underwhelming longer game. The first couple levels have excellent replay value, since there’s something addictive about mellow beauty of drifting orbs. I imagine I’ll pick this game up again from time to time, for the relaxed playstyle, delicate soundtrack and sparkling orbs, but I also imagine becoming annoyed with the later levels all over again.[review pros="Great replay value, delicate soundtrack, enjoyable slow pace at the start" cons="Challenge can ruin the mellow mood, levels become repetitive" score=81]