Heard of Hemisphere Games’ Osmos? It’s been available for several platforms since 2009, but just recently released for Android. The premise may sound rather familiar: Float around eating things that are smaller than you, causing you to grow larger and therefore capable of eating more things. It’s certainly a gameplay style most of us have seen before in games like Flow, but Osmos has a few distinguishing features that make it stand out as one of the best games currently available on the Android OS.
The first unique element you’ll notice is the game’s atmosphere. One of the opening splash screens advises the player to use headphones while playing, and it is advice worth heeding. Osmos’ soundtrack is provided by several prominent ambient musicians (“prominent” being a relative term; I don’t think Loscil turns up on Top 40 playlists very often), and immediately sets a relaxed, almost meditative tone for the game. The sonic atmosphere is mirrored by the visuals and gameplay, wherein the player controls a softly-glowing blue mote floating in a space filled with other softly-glowing motes.
Of course, atmosphere alone won’t keep a game interesting for long (I’m looking at you, Hard Reset). Fortunately, Osmos features some pretty unique physics-based gameplay that keeps things interesting and provides players with a challenge. The only way to control your softly-glowing blue mote is to eject “mass” in one direction, which pushes your mote in the opposite direction. In a game where the goal is the accumulation of mass, this method of control presents a dilemma: To grow larger you must eat smaller motes, but reaching those motes will often require you to shrink. On more than one occasion I found myself rushing to get to a food-mote, only to find myself the smaller of the two when I reached it. Success in Osmos depends largely on the ability to predict the courses of the other motes so as to limit the number of self-shrinking adjustments you have to make.
As you progress through Osmos you will have to contend with a variety of types of mote. Some will actively try to escape you; some repel any other mote that comes near, and some—in several of Osmos’ trickier levels—have their own gravitational fields that get stronger as they grow larger. There’s enough variety and challenge to keep the game entertaining throughout its modest 27-level “Odyssey” mode. Hemisphere was wise to keep the main game brief and bolster it with an “Arcade” mode; the Odyssey mode avoids becoming repetitive and boring, and the Arcade mode adds value for the players who take to the challenge.
Osmos runs nicely on the Android platform, although I strongly recommend playing it on a tablet rather than a phone if possible. Even on the relatively large screen of the Galaxy Nexus, the game feels a bit too cramped, whereas a 10-inch tablet gives it sufficient breathing room. A huge point in the game’s favour on the mobile platform is how its control scheme avoids the common pitfall of forcing players to cover important parts of the screen with their fingers. In Osmos, you simply tap behind your mote to propel it forward, meaning you don’t have to cover up the mote itself, or the area to which it’s travelling.
Ultimately, there’s not much negative to say about Osmos on Android. The difficulty ramps up rather suddenly in the last few levels, and some levels rely a bit too much on trial-and-error, but the whole thing is so relaxing it’s hard to get too upset.
If you, like me, are an Android enthusiast on the search for quality games—or if you’re a PC, Mac, or iOS user and haven’t played it yet—do yourself a favour. Grab your best set of headphones, find a comfy place to sit, and drift away with Osmos.
Osmos is available for $4.99 in the Android Market. A free demo is also available.