The iPad is still in its infancy stages when it comes to gaming. We've seen some neat experiments and some nifty iPhone ports, but no game has really managed to set itself apart as a must-play on the iPad. "Osmos" is a must-play on the iPad.
At first glance, "Osmos" looks a lot like "Flow." You're basically controlling a molecule, trying to gobble up other molecules. You can only eat molecules smaller than you (larger ones mean instant death), so it's a matter of navigating a precarious microscope slide, looking for those small "fish" to eventually maybe you big enough to gobble the big "fish."
This concept is carried across a half-dozen objective types. Sometimes you're simply trying to become the largest molecule on the level, other times you have to chase down a rogue, enemy molecule. There are even maze-like maps which require precise movements as you float gently among deadly giants.
Like "Plants vs. Zombies," "Osmos" is a port of a PC game that has found a much better home on the iPad. The game utilizes pinch-to-zoom, slide and multi-touch taps as your main control inputs. Tapping ejects matter out the back of your molecule (oh, grow up!), thus projecting you forward. Pinching zooms the camera in and out, letting your tiny molecule fill the screen or be a mere speck. Sliding lets you speed up or slow down time, thus allowing you to make precise movements when needed. All these things could be done with a mouse and keyboard, but having that feeling of direct control makes "Osmos" work so much better on the iPad.
We've seen the molecule thing done before, but on the iPad's screen, the game looks calming and elegant, a step up from games like "Flow." It's not visually taxing or overcomplicated, which works in the game's favor.
Unlike "Flow," which sort of got old once you completed the "campaign," "Osmos" offers up a variety of arcade modes. These are basically each of the objectives from the campaign, increasing in difficulty with each level. OpenFeint achievements give you a reason to strive for perfection in each of these modes, and they're a great time-waster if you've got 5 minutes to kill.
Lack of Depth
If you could hold anything against "Osmos," it's that it shows pretty much all its cards in the first few minutes of playing. Most of the objectives are simply slight variations on the main theme of becoming the biggest molecule, which cuts down on some of the new-factor over time.
For five bucks, "Osmos" on iPad is an easy recommendation to make. It's the best iPad game on the App Store right now and should be purchased by anyone who picks up the device. Even if it's not yours. Trust me, the owner will thank you.