Now Playing: Osmos (PC)

I would gladly have posted about Osmos when I originally bought and downloaded it last year but I hit a snafu that neither I, nor Microsoft, had anticipated. Released late in December on Microsoft’s Games for Windows Live client, Osmos has been around for a while on Steam but it wasn’t until the prospect of Xbox Live Achievements that I was ready to pony up the $5 bargain price.

Like I said, though, I ran into a pretty detrimental problem. Turns out no one tested the game on Windows 7 Release Candidate which has this tiny snag where it doesn’t render any on-screen text. So no menus, no tutorials, no progress bar and, essentially, no game. But now that I’ve upgraded to a full-on Win7 release and reinstalled the Games for Windows stuff I was finally able to check it out and it’s quite a beautiful (and frustrating) experience.

You play as a mote, a microscopic bacteria-like organism that looks not a little bit like a Moon Jellyfish. Your goal across 47 levels is to maneuver around the screen and grow big enough to either absorb a certain percentage of rival bacteria or specific microbial foes. No matter the mode you always move around the same way, by blasting off little bits of yourself to propel your mote forward. The brilliant and challenging twist is that those little bits go bounding around the screen and can be absorbed by other bacteria to grow bigger while you shrink down. The more skittish and frequent your movements, the greater the chance you’ll bulk up something around you that can then absorb you.

At first sight I expected Osmos to play like Geometry Wars; it definitely looks the part with dark backgrounds and loads of glowy critters moving around. But as I played and failed, failed, failed, it finally dawned on me that this is more of a physics-y puzzle/strategy game. Delicate, calculated movements are required and — more and more — the focus is on using your propulsion stream to subtly effect the inertia and size of other bacteria. Thankfully, restarting is as simple as hitting Alt+R, a macro I found myself slapping mere seconds into some stages. All this “action” is accompanied by a perfectly fitting downtempo soundtrack that may not be infectious but definitely makes Osmos an experience and not just a clever Flash game.

I’m not quite in the mood for a game this deliberate and calculating (I did unlock slow-down and speed-up commands to move things along, which helps) so it may be a game I pop into every now and then until that puzzle bug bites. Regardless of Xbox Live or Steam Achievements, Osmos is worth a look-see and there’s even a free demo to be had at the official site.

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