Osmos has the most perfect blend of visuals, music and gameplay that I’ve come across so far, and is one of the best examples of a game as an art form that I can think of.  Although not originally an iOS title, it works so well with a touch screen that it’s hard to imagine playing it on another platform.

When people talk about games as an art form, there can be a knee jerk reaction from hard core gamers as they worry they’ll have to float through a forest lighting fragments of poems with a magic twig*. Osmos is not that kind of game.

It stands up on gameplay alone. Like many of the best iOS games, it has a very simple, mathematically balanced mechanic which allows a great deal of subtlety and nuance from a single touch.

The player controls a circular cell as it drifts through space. The cell absorbs any smaller cells it touches, growing larger accordingly, but is depleted whenever it touches a larger cell. The user moves the cell by tapping nearby, and the cell responds by expelling mass in that direction, pushing the cell away. Remember your high school science: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” See class, physics is fun. This creates a feedback mechanism: the more the user moves, the smaller the cell becomes and the more cells that can swallow it.

A further degree of control comes from swiping left or right, which slows or accelerates the game. This allows the cell to quickly cross large distances, or to slow to a crawl for finely tuned maneuvering.

This mechanism is beautifully integrated with the soundtrack, a carefully chosen mix of tracks from multiple artists at the warmer end of the ambient electronica spectrum. As the player changes speed, the entire soundtracks shifts up or down a tone. It could easily have been annoying or overused, but it fits both the game and the music perfectly.

The visuals complete the package. Looking at the same time both organic and astronomical, it’s a compact, abstract universe of drifting cells, that’s a joy to lose yourself in.

The game is divided into Odyssey (a series of levels paced to introduce the controls and concepts while ramping up the difficulty), Arcade (assorted challenges) and a newly introduced Multiplayer section, which I’ve not yet tested.

Unusually, when you complete a level, you can continue playing until ready to move on, something I often found myself wanting to do. It’s a surprisingly rare thing – most games simply assume that once you’ve ticked all the boxes, you’ll have no further interest in the level, as if the idea that a game should be enjoyable other than a means of scoring points has never occurred to the developers.

It’s a game you’ll return to and lose yourself in time and time again.

Available for iPhone and iPod touch and iPad

Price: £1.99 / $2.99  (iPhone and iPod touch), £2.99 / $4.99 (iPad)

Developer: Hemisphere games

(Also available as a desktop version)



* Actually I like that sort of game too. (link to Firefly)


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