PS Minis are strange things. Existing between conventional downloadable titles and casual smart phone games, they often miss the mark. They frequently feel like half-finished or unpolished ideas not good enough to compete on the regular PSN store and are frequently more expensive than similar smartphone games that are often better. The fact that they exist on both the PS3 and PSP is great, but the low price of conventional PSP games and the high price of data storage on the device means mobile gamers are far more likely to pick up games on the App store than browse the range of PS Mini’s available.
That’s not to say there aren’t great games available, but Orbit is far more similar to a smartphone game than most. At its most basic, you are firing a spaceman across the surface of a planet using a canon. You do this by timing a button press as a cursor moves up and down a meter, and you try to make sure you time it to hit the green zone and send him as far as possible. Its very much like a classic golf game with a button press too early or late resulting in a trip straight up (then very quickly down), or straight into the space dirt. Clearly this is a ganeplay style ideally suited to a touch screen interface and as a result it fails to make use of the PSP’s key advantage; proper controls.
The choice of platform shouldn’t be a criticism levelled at the actual game though, and in truth its well thought out and with some neat touches for such a simple premise. The first and most glaring hurdle to cross though is the basic art style which is very clearly reminiscent of a free flash game. Basic animation, ugly menu icons and a general lack of care in presentation may be something you won’t notice so much on the small PSP, but blown up on a big screen its rather off-putting. For some reason I kept thinking it looked like a game on the Commodore home computer from ages past; perhaps because of the colour palette it uses.
Once you get past this though you are quickly won over by the genuinely funny dialogue. This shouldn’t be dismissed too lightly; games with massive budgets like Bulletstorm and Duke Nukem all tried to make the gamers laugh this year and failed miserably whereas Orbit had me chuckling gently from the first tutorial screen. To paraphrase a random quote,
“So you’re saying there’s aliens on this planet?”
“Maybe not aliens. Maybe just automatic alien death machines!”
As the game progresses little additions are made to the formula and a comprehensive upgrade system comes into effect with more powerful cannons, jet-packs and innumerable other unlocks. You gain additional distance by hammering the X button to fly further, and the first time I unlocked an upgrade for this skill and saw my little avatar now had amusing cardboard wings and flight goggles was one of maybe only five times a game made me laugh out loud this year. The visuals are basic, but there’s something about the main avatar that’s charming.
Its really the games writing that makes the whole thing interesting. As a game, its typical throwaway, casual stuff, no more or less engaging than something like Canabalt or Jetpack Joyride. With allusions to the budgetarilly-challenged space race of recent years and how the credit crunch has seen man go to space via catapult to collect gold though, its self aware and relevant in its humour.
There are innumerable better games to play on the go, but if you’re looking for a trajectory based game that will give you a laugh as you kill time on your train (or space) journey, Orbit will suit you fine.
6 failed Mars landings out of 10