Osmos (PC)

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<em>Osmos</em> (PC)

Developer/Publisher Hemisphere Games
Platform: PC

The motes on the screen go ’round and ’round

If you’ve ever played Spore (Will Wright’s playful, ambitious sim blending elements of Darwinian evolution and Intelligent Design), you might remember the first stage, in which you control a tiny single-celled organism.

As you whip your little flagella to swim around a prehistoric tidepool, your job is to gobble up any creatures that have the ill fortune of being smaller than yourself. As you manage to eat and grow larger, so does the menu. Now Hemisphere has built an entire casual game around this simple idea, adding compelling new wrinkles to the gameplay. While less visually appealing than Spore’s googley-eyed characters, Osmos’ bubble-like motes drift around a circular field that resembles a deep-space Petri dish.

Ambient electronic music pulses while you try to grow larger and more dominant by bumping into and absorbing smaller motes. If you bump into a mote before you’ve outgrown its circumference, game over. The catch is that, in order to gain speed or change direction, you must expel a stream of baby motes that has two effects: deflating your size while simultaneously feeding competing motes. While the game can grow monotonous if played for long stretches, the trance it locks you in is undeniable.