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Fresh Goo: Osmos

I've been having a bit of a play of one of 2009's big IGF games, Osmos. The peculiar cell-based ambient puzzler is due for release very soon, so I thought it might be an idea to post a few impressions, and let you guys have a look at the trailer, which is exclusive to RPS. (For now, at least.) Go take a look.

Osmos wants to be biological. You are a cell, or a gooey bubble, a inside a floaty 2D plane. Movement is the main challenge: you can absorb other cells that are smaller than you, to increase your gooey girth. Bigger blobs will absorb you, however, and must be avoided. The trade off, the resource management, is that you need to propel yourself by expelling material. This makes things tricky: you have to be measured, cautious. The faster and harder you expel, the more rapidly you are propelled through the viscous fluid surroundings of your surroundings, but you also get smaller, and that means you can absorb fewer blobs, and are at greater risk of being absorbed yourself.

Managing the amount of material you expel, therefore, is the key challenge, and your ability to do so will decide the tougher level. Lose too much material and you can't engulf your target, and that will lead to your doom. While this is the main trick, and the core conceit, it's also the main problem with the game: it's possible to mess up, and have all the other blobs become bigger than you, for a no-way-back scenario. But also it means that you are often defined by your blob-absorbing inertia. Once you hit a certain size, you're pretty much guaranteed a win. It's a mopping up operation, like the crucial winning point in an RTS game, except here the blobs can't surrender.

Osmos is a classic motion puzzle game, but it feels wholly fresh and new. I think this is in the way in which the game is delivered: a soothing ambient soundtrack and watery, world-through-microscope visuals makes it strange and - when you're not making a mess and having to restart levels - relaxing. Chilled, engrossing, a little flawed. but making up for it in charm and colour: that's pretty much how we like our games.

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