Somewhere deep within the sparkling darkness of the cosmos, a miniature space ship circles endlessly around a brown voxel planet. Marooned in space with presumably malfunctioning circuitry, its only course of survival is to alter its travel speeds and avoid the incoming asteroids. Rory Pickering’s fresh approach to classic arcade games is evident in Orbit, an interesting and surprisingly re-playable variation on the shoot ‘em up genre. Simply designed yet complex and multifaceted in its gameplay, Orbit asks players to complete as many revolutions around the planet without dying. A conventional revolution earns 2 points, but Captain Janeway didn’t get USS Voyager through space by being conventional. Tap and hold the right screen to race around the sphere and grab yourself a cool 4 points, or and tap and hold the left side for a slower orbit and earn 5 instead. A game like Orbit might seem repetitive on the surface, but it’s very much in the same vein as Tetris or Pong.
The minimalist pixel art graphics and text, dressed off beautifully with layers of chiptune music instantly warp you back to the eighties when these kinds of games were a dime a dozen, with eager, sweaty-fingered players frequenting arcades for a taste of virtual glory. Naturally, the more revolutions or ‘orbits’ you complete, the more difficult the game becomes: the number of rockets targeting the planet increases, making dodging that much more challenging, and the music reflects that by becoming more frantic. Fast loading times further enhance the experience by making it smooth and enjoyable, but the key driving force to Orbit‘s success is not just beating a high score.
Every movement in Orbit is part of a much broader strategy comprised of multiple analytical decisions all made in real time. Planning in advance and being able to anticipate distance become invaluable assets, because they directly influence how much players need to adjust the space ship’s speed, and avoid being obliterated by rockets. Orbit is a subtle but strong arcade entry that instantly addresses the cardinal rule of game design: easy to learn, but hard to master. If the holodeck wasn’t the Voyager crew’s main form of entertainment, you can bet your bottom dollar they would have been playing this.