Osmos is a geek’s paradise. Any person that has ever found themselves impressed in physics class, interested during biology, or fascinated with astronomy will likely find some reason to love Osmos.
I wouldn’t want to scare everyone away with talk of nerdery, Osmos is most succinctly described as a puzzle game. The game’s “story” is a series of scenarios that are each centered around one of a variety of level types. Most objectives can be reduced to the player needing to become the largest cell on the screen, or needing to absorb a particular cell.
Players go about reaching their goals by propelling their cell using their cell’s own mass. By tapping the screen, the player can jettison a tiny bit of their cell’s mass, the game imparts momentum on your cell and the detached mass and away you go. There is no friction to hinder inertia in Osmos, so once you start moving you will go until you hit something bigger than you.The key mechanic in Osmos is that your cell will absorb cells smaller than yourself and be absorbed by any cells larger than yourself. Later in the game antimatter comes into play, but it really only serves to mess with the conservation of mass in the level. Each cell in the environment is subject to the game’s physics, so small non player cells will be absorbed into large NPCs and so on. In some levels every object starts at a standstill, so from the very start you can watch the ripple effects of your movements as the game’s stellar sountrack rolls on.
Watching and listening makes up a significant portion of Osmos. The player is given the ability to speed up or slow down time on a whim, so levels progressing slowly can be finished more snappily. Even with fast forward, the player must be patient and wait for some events to play out. I found myself annoyed at times when my progress was halted right before victory by a freak organism during a fast forward. While these deaths weren’t random, it can be difficult to keep track of every moving part in an Osmos level. The obvious solution is to turn off fast forward, but the alternative is watching your cell crawl at a snail’s pace. The problem with moving quickly in Osmos is that it requires you to jettison more of your mass, which means you are more vulnerable to being absorbed by another cell. While I feel that this choice adds a decent layer of tactical thought to the game, the inevitable slower pace may frustrate some players.
While I mentioned before that Osmos can be boiled down to levels that require you to absorb a particular entity and levels that require you to become the largest, these level types are broken down into several varieties. My favorite of the lot is the solar mode, pictured above. In solar mode, a central mass named the attractor serves as a sun for hundreds of tiny cell satellites. Since your cell is one of these satellites, solar mode requires you to think about orbital physics while also trying to absorb other cells. You aren’t going to have to calculate your cell’s escape velocity, but manipulating the orbit effectively can get tricky. I found the extra layer of complexity makes the levels absolutely fascinating to watch. I often begin a solar level by absorbing one or two cells and fast forwarding to see what will happen in the long run. Sometimes I end up with the largest cell, and most of the time I am annihilated within a few seconds. To me, solar mode is the culmination of all of Osmos’ concepts.
Once players have completed the main levels, they can always dabble in the game’s arcade mode. Arcade mode lets you play randomized versions of the story level types. For those that enjoy the game’s mechanics, having an infinite amount of randomized levels available is a real treat.
Osmos presses all of the right buttons for me. To be honest, I would have payed five dollars for the solar mode alone. Some players may complain about the game’s slow pace, or the relative lack of variety in level design, but if you find a particular mode to latch on to you will easily get your money’s worth out of Osmos.
Osmos is available on the App Store for $4.99