When the game originally released for the PC, it barely made a blip on the radar. Last year, Hemisphere Games released Osmos through Steam, giving players the chance to play as a single-celled organism in an other-worldly way, as though they were just one planet among many floating in the heavens. Yet, for the PC, it gained little notice.
Then, this year, Osmos HD released for the iPad, and just last week, Hemisphere released an iPhone version and changed the name to simply Osmos, and Osmos for iPad. I’ve tested all three versions, and without a doubt this is one of the best games available for both portable devices. On the PC, not so much.
The reason for this is simple: control. While often PC gamers have better control over their titles than any console, home or portable title — thanks to the precision of the mouse — Osmos defies that standard. On the iPhone and iPad, players must drive their single-celled avatar through a shrinking world of giants, zooming in and out for optimum precision, and even changing the rate of time. On the iPhone and iPad, this is all done with a simple swipe of the finger, or just a few taps; the most precision possible. On the PC, players will find themselves scrambling to get their mouse at the right spot constantly, and it becomes a game of cat and mouse with your hardware.
Identical on both iDevices, Osmos is fundamentally a puzzle game, where players must, in nearly every case, become the largest cell on the screen. This is accomplished simply enough: eat smaller cells, stay clear of larger cells. As easy as this sounds, it’s often not so simple; for one, not all cells are created equal. Some maps will pit players in a labyrinth of giant cells, while others will have more intelligent cells vying for the food.
More importantly, every action players take effects on their surroundings. Propulsion is accomplished by spitting out a small part of yourself (don’t worry, you can never get so small that you disappear out of existence), which will ultimately hit another cell, and push it. Osmos relies heavily on physics and momentum. Small objects will be able to move much faster will less effort, and larger ones may not even feel a small cell it devours flying towards it. For those not scientifically inclined, fear not, this is no physics puzzler, though some levels undoubtedly are frustrating.
There are two main game modes, Odyssey and Arcade. The former is a sort of campaign, meant to teach players how to play while giving them a taste of the more difficult challenges, while the latter is the no-holds-barred gameplay that may end up driving you insane. Most of the levels in Odyssey are available in the Arcade, but once beaten in Odyssey, you don’t need to play them again in Arcade.
While the gameplay is enough to set Osmos apart from any competition, what really separates it is how solid the game feels because of three perfectly designed elements: control, physics and music. The controls are perfect, the physics is excellent, and the music is surprising. The serene tones are what one would expect to hear in a happy moment in a film, or a documentary about space. They are all very simple, often playing single notes at a time, and in fact are so calming that I even recommend just putting Osmos on so that you can listen to it when studying or working. That, or you could click on the songs in the main menu and purchase them direct from the various artists. But more importantly, in the game they give a true sense of scale and make the world come alive.
Osmos, for both the iPad and iPhone, offers at least 10 hours of gameplay, though not much replay value. I suggest purchasing it for the iPad, because the bigger screen makes a world of difference for precision, though the iPhone will work just fine for those who don’t own the iPad. Unfortunately, you don’t get both versions if you purchase one, and both versions are priced differently. Still, I highly recommend one, if not both.