Say what you want about the digital revolution, but it’s given people with the means to create the ability to distribute to a much wider audience than was possible in the old floppy swapping days. Yeah, I actually know what that means. Can you believe it? Can you?!!! You may thus assume I have history with gaming going way back. Back to the cartridge days, I even owned a Channel F. Wow, so kewl. Anyway, point is I’ve seen practically every iconic game ever made and have played the majority of them. One of the most legendary from the NES era was Marble Madness, in which players controlled a marble through a variety of obstacles to the finish line. It wasn’t the first game of its kind, just the most well-known, and it originally appeared in the arcades in 1984 thanks to Atari. So, the concept of the ‘ball game’, if you will, had been around quite awhile. Moving forward we have titles such as Super Monkey Ball, and most recently Armillo. Tiny Lab Productions’ Orborun (Steam, $5.99) fits into this category, but its primary focus is on ‘the twitch’, where the player is required to react incredibly quickly to changing environments in order to rack up points and complete each level. So, what’s it all about?
Orborun is a 3D puzzle/action game with racing elements, released by indie developer Tiny Lab. In Orborun, the player controls a robot that can roll into ball form, kind of like Rock Lords. You must guide your robot through a variety of twists and turns, avoiding various obstacles, and getting to the exit while collecting a variety of icons for extra speed, points, and the like. You have a one or two-player option, and you can select from several worlds at first, but others are locked until your skills reach the level required to play them. I’ve only played the single-player option, so I can’t judge the two-player, please keep that in mind.
Orborun starts by giving the player plenty of space to learn. If you begin with the first world, “Haste”, you’re slowly introduced to how things work. The controls are completely intuitive. Anyone with half a brain who’s played at least one video game in their life can pick this up with little effort. The programmers have done a superb job integrating lessons into the first several levels, so that even if you are used to the movement you get a feel for the world, since it is unique in its own way. As you progress, things get slowly more difficult as the obstacles increase or get a mind of their own, and the speed is as fast as Sonic Adventure at times, except your survival depends on absolute skill. After each level your points, time, and collections are tallied, and your ranking is saved on the stage selection screen for each world, giving you some incentive to return to some and get your skills honed for future tasks. As the levels get harder, your abilities are further and further tested, as are your nerves, and Orborun has a great difficulty curve.
But it does have a few issues to note. First, graphically speaking, although the movements are fluid and the environments are well laid-out, there really isn’t much to look at. The atmosphere fits the theme of the game, sure, but the surrounding environment is a sparse vector-graphics cube. The playing field is the only thing you get to look at and it’s largely the same platforms in a variety of shapes and colors. Plus, your robot stays in ball form 90% of the time, only occasionally leaping into form for flavor, but it tends to be usually near the end of each level before you jump into the portal. A little more integration of the robot form would have been a nice idea. Maybe with little skills of his own like a grappling hook for further gameplay variety.
Second, the music. Awesome, cute electronic soundtrack, but unfortunately, it’s the same song almost every level. Other than the opening track, I only counted two different in-game tunes to listen to. Luckily, they’re nothing that you’ll tear nerve cells apart to release from your brain; rather they eventually stick in the background as you focus on playing. The sound effects, however, work splendidly, no problems there.
Third, the gameplay. Orborun is very easy to play. The difficulty curve is set up perfectly. However, other than the point-tally and timing system, there really is no incentive to strive for something more. Eventually you get into the mindset of “I just want to get past this level”, and you could give a crap about what you collect; it becomes all about getting through the platforms to the end and moving on. It thus has something of a slack to it as you go further, where the interest in playing is lost to a certain degree and your mind grows numb, mainly because of the repetition of general design and sound. But it’s still a lot of fun to play. There is one further thing to mention. Orborun has an occasional glitch that’s highly annoying. It deals with the resetting of your robot. At times, you reach certain points in levels like checkpoints. If you fall off the platforms you are reset to these positions. However, you’re reset not only in location but also in the direction you were facing. Thus, when this happens, you find yourself on your next life facing the same direction you fell and there’s no way to turn around. You simply watch, helplessly, as you lose the rest of your lives and you have to start the level from the beginning. It happened to me many times in many different locations, so fixing this will be a large undertaking. Basically, all they need to do is make sure the character resets at your last checkpoint facing in the direction you need to go instead of where you were facing.
Overall, Orborun is a fun little game. It’s something of a derivative title and is basically like rolling a marble through a maze when it comes down to it, but the skill required in later runs and the speed reflex necessary is more than enough for a hardcore gamer to feel their skills tested to the limits. More complex gameplay would have been a welcome feature, as well as more incentive for better playing, because unlocking later levels only takes the completion of a set number of previous levels, which in itself does not require you to play well. Maybe give it some more design, as well; something like Snake Rattle ‘N’ Roll with lots of cool environments and things to observe could make Orborun spectacular. But, as it is currently, it has something to offer for at least a few casual plays until you finish it.
- + Intuitive design
- + Excellent difficulty curve
- – Low replay factor
- – Lack of visual variety