GyrOrbital (iPhone Game)

GyrOrbitalA space station in the middle of nowhere is under attack from all sides, and needs you to defend it. It’s a pretty common video game premise, but the thing that makes GyrOrbital unique is what it means to be attacked “from all sides”. Using the built-in gyroscope, your iPhone requires you to physically turn around in order to watch for attackers around you. It’s not a game you can play everywhere, since you need to be able to stand up and spin around like an idiot, but it’s a pretty fun gimmick when you’re able to try it.

GyrOrbital is a very simple game other than that: Basic vector art portrays missiles streaking towards the spherical base, and a field of stars moves when you do to maintain the illusion that you’re peering through a porthole into space. Tap or drag over missiles to lock on and destroy them. (It’s not an option to spin around and swipe your fingers across the screen wildly. In a clever bit of game design, the base doesn’t fire shots until you’ve lifted your finger.) It’s very simple, and admittedly looks pretty pointless in still screenshots, but it’s the simplicity of a game like Pac-Man. It doesn’t need to be more complicated.

There is one serious weakness that undermines the comparison to iconic video games, though. To play the game, you stand in one place and spin around, so it should feel like you’re on the central spot that missiles are converging on. Instead, though, the view is perpetually looking towards the base from a little ways off. When you spin, the camera is actually rotating around in a fixed orbit. I understand why this was done, because when a missile gets within your orbit, you can see it approaching the station no matter which way you’re facing. This gives a little warning and makes the game feel fair – if you constantly got hit from behind without any notice, it would be too frustrating. On the other hand, this way I don’t feel like I’m actually spinning around. It seems more like a traditional scrolling view on a video game, just with an unusual way to control the movement. While playing, I’ll catch myself thinking things like “move back to the left” rather than “turn left” or “it’s coming from my left!”. It’s a subtle distinction, but it means the game failed to erase the abstraction between me and my avatar.

What is left, though, is still a fun little video game with a unique control scheme. It’s a cool experience, and based on how well I’m doing in the Game Center rankings, it’s being unfairly overlooked. Go check it out.

Grade: B

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