Osmos: Survival in the Microscopic World

“Yes… fish all bathe together. Although they do tend to eat one another. I often think… fish must get awfully tired of seafood.” Arthur Bach, from the movie, Arthur (1981).

Cellular Biology is a fascinating subject. It has always amazed me that the very definition of life is exemplified by creatures so small that thousands of them could swim around freely in a glass of water and we would not see them. It also amazes me that each of us is made up of millions of similar creatures, all working in harmony, and that the cells that are us are only a few nucleotides different than those of free ranging variety.

In fact, if you want to capture a child’s attention for a few moments at least, give him or her a Digital Blue USB microscope, access to a computer, a jar of pond water, and 30 minutes of your time. Eyes will widen, jaws will drop, and silence will be punctuated with exclamations of “Oooo,” “ahhh,” and “wow!”

The kid might like it too.

If the microscope fails to attract, then offer up Osmos, if you can tear yourself away from it first.

Osmos is a game based on one of the core principles of biology: Consume or be consumed. It’s a simple concept, and the game play is equally simple. You move your cell and gobble up smaller cells while avoiding larger ones. But, as it is in real life, nothing is ever that simple.

The Osmos universe is small, but in this environ size does matter. Think of it as a small pond and you want to become the biggest fish in it. In Osmos, you control a little blue cell; for matters of clarity, I will call the blue cell Harvey. (You don’t have to name yours.)

Move toward smaller cells and away from bigger ones by expelling a bit of Harvey, like a balloon expels air, and your cell moves in the opposite direction. Actually, farting in a pool is a better analogy because the bits your cell pushes out are like little bubbles that become tiny versions of your cell, and they can be eaten by other cells or reabsorbed by your cell. It kind of disgusting when you think about it, but in the Osmos universe expelling your insides to move around is just as much a natural process as farting, so you’ll just have to get over it.

Once Harvey is moving it will keep moving, consuming all smaller cells in its path not smart enough or fast enough to get out of the way, until it is affected by its environment in some way or it’s consumed by a bigger cell. The more Harvey consumes the bigger it gets, and being big has two advantages; Harvey can eat larger cells, and Harvey has more insides to expel, making it faster and more maneuverable. Be careful not to overdo the expelling. If Harvey shrinks too small you may find that it’s too tiny to eat anyone, and the only thing Harvey will be good for is becoming a snack for other cells.

The environment changes from level to level. Some are small, while others are so big you have to zoom in to see your little blue cell. Some universes have star-like centers that all cells orbit. Get too close to the star and Harvey is toast. There are many other universes that present different challenges to the survival of your cell. As you complete levels you unlock them and they become available for you to revisit through the arcade mode.

The thing that really makes Osmos shine is the graphics. The “cells” within the Osmos universe seem alive, their skins are transparent, revealing unnamed organs that shimmer and pulsate. The sounds of the Osmos universe is immersive and mesmerizing. Often, after completing a level I will just let the game continue and watch as Harvey swallows up everything around it while haunting electronic music plays in the background.

I can’t think of a single thing to complain about Osmos. OK, I can think of one tiny thing to pule about; the iPhone version is US$3.00 and is $5.00 for the iPad version. There really isn’t that much difference between the two versions, so why not split the difference and charge $4.00 for a universal version, playable on either system? It’s a nit, I know, but one that bothers me like a fly on a birthday cake.

Osmos is an engaging game that puts you in primordial soup and swallows up your time, and it looks and sounds wonderful. Regardless of which version you get, you should get it now!

Review ItemOsmos
ManufacturerHemisphere Games

US$2.99 - iPhone

US$4.99 - iPad

Minimum Requirements

iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch

* Note: My rating system goes like this;

  • Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
  • Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
  • Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
  • So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
  • Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.