Now that everybody's most loved (and hated) birds have gone to space it feels appropriate to write about an iPad game that also uses gravitational pulls to complete puzzles. In this one you get planetoids, asteroids, a space shuttle and of course, no green pigs. Unfortunately, the game was available only for iPad 2 until now, but a new slim version has recently been introduced for those with iPhones and older devices.
Spaced Away by Falanxia is a simple physics puzzler where yo play with gravity and inertia to orbit around small objects floating in space to reach your destination. Being stuck in a scape pod with limited supply of fuel and oxygen isn't going to make things easier, so you must calculate the adequate trajectory and strategy to reach the next supply asteroid in time.
Of course, this is a simple premise that gets more and more complex as new elements and obstacles are added as you progress through the 40 levels. The game doesn't have the typical three star award system but it's structured with short levels that can be completed within a minute and that build up on difficulty slowly, keeping the player fairly interested in moving forward instead of trying to beat the high score.
The first level serves as a refresher on how gravity works and how to use orbits to your advantage to gain speed. I'm really pleased that's all it covers, meaning that the controls are so intuitive that don't need to be explained. Simply tap on the planet you're orbiting to accelerate, tap a neighbouring moon to gain impulse and navigate to it.
Every celestial body and space junk has its own spin, rotating at different speeds on their own and at times, orbiting around a bigger planet. The key in most levels is choosing the best partner to get to your destination, balancing the amount of fuel needed to travel and offsetting it with the maximum speed that you can potentially obtain from that orbit.
Every time you reach an orbit you get an indicator of the additional speed in orange. Every time you change orbits, that speed meter decreases. This is rather odd, since we slow down quite dramatically, like a car driving and running out of gas. This isn't the case in space, right? We've all learned through the years thanks to moon lander type games that fuel is used to correct trajectories and that the shuttle will keep moving even when we run out of gas. Maybe the deep space here is particularly dense.
I love how the controls are out of the way and that you should only worry about them in the last levels where every second counts. Perhaps my only gripe with Spaced Away is that the level designed feels very constrained due to its own interpretation of space physics. The game only allows one way to move from asteroid to asteroid with any type of deviation allowed. This works with the mechanics force you to move from A to B and then from B to C. In fact, it's more about discovering what the game designer wanted to achieve with the level.
All this makes for a very entertaining puzzler less predictable than Chillingo's offerings. I loved how Spaced Away is very casual and easy to pick up. It brings some mechanics from more obscure games like Osmos or New Orbit to the masses in digestible short levels. I'm enjoying the game on a new iPad, so I wish the developer updates the HD version to Retina-ready graphics.