In Osmos, a puzzle/action game by Hemisphere Games, the bigger you are, the better. Built specifically for the iPad after enjoying success (and earning awards) on the Mac and PC, Osmos is a game of nebulous, colorful cells called “Motes” and your quest to become the biggest, most dominant mote on screen. An oddly soothing and entrancing game, Osmos is so well adapted to the iPad’s unique control scheme that you couldn’t imagine playing it on anything else.
Osmos has you play the part of a lowly Mote, which looks like a single-celled organism. The goal is to become larger than all the other Motes on screen. Accomplishing this is rather simple—just not necessarily easy. When you collide with another Mote that is smaller than you, you absorb them and become that much larger in mass. Colliding with larger Motes on the other hand has the opposite effect and you quickly get swallowed up by them. In the world of Osmos, size really does matter. It’s survival of the largest. To propel yourself in any direction you just tap the opposite side of your Mote that you wish to travel in. So to move right you would tap the left side and so on. Doing so jettisons small amounts of matter essentially pushing you in the opposite direction but making you a little smaller with each tap.
The physics engine used in Osmos is impressive. Each Mote seems to have its own gravity that can affect the trajectory of other Motes that pass nearby. You can zoom in and out of the playing area to get a better view of the whole scene and plan your path of travel. You’ll also run into other types of Motes that will require quick-thinking and clever strategies. The Antimatter Motes swallow up anything they come in contact with and must be avoided while the Repulsers that push away anything that comes near them. Some levels will have you orbiting around a super-sized Mote while others will have you surrounded by tons of larger Motes requiring precise movement to avoid being swallowed up.
The different types of Motes and various level configurations keeps the game from getting stale while managing to always have the same basic goal—become the largest Mote. For those looking for more challenging gameplay, you can even speed up or slow down time by sliding a finger left or right on the bottom of the screen. If you speed up time everything moves at a much more frantic pace and your reflexes become a huge factor in your success. If you slow time down everything really creeps along so you can better control your Mote’s movement. For beginners, a slower-paced game is the way to go.
Osmos has a zen-like feel to it with no time limits, unlimited lives and a relaxing musical score that fits well with its cosmic look. Graphically, Osmos is quite pleasing as well. All the Motes look great as they change color from orange to blue letting you know that they are either smaller or larger than you.
The iPad and Osmos are a match made in heaven, kinda like peanut butter and jelly. If you’ve got an iPad and you enjoy relaxing (yet challenging) games, you’re sure to enjoy Osmos.
[Tim Mercer is a frequent contributor to Macworld.]