Every once in a while we trawl the App Store searching for strange treasures that deserve more attention. This time we dug up Rusty Orb (Out Now, $1.99), which is kind of like playing Lunar Lander with a grappling hook. It recalls last year’s Redneck Jellyfish with its quirky grab ‘n’ deposit physics puzzles, so this is a title you’ll take interest in if you’re a genre fan looking for something well out of the ordinary.
Your goal in Rusty is to locate colored crystals and deposit them in matching receptacles. It’s a task easier said than done thanks to spikes, alien creatures and industrial threats that’ll take out your ship on contact; not to mention, you’ll have to find creative use for random astro junk that happens to be lying around.
Not one to hold the player’s hand, Rusty lets you figure out its finer points and they’re actually pretty intuitive. The default joystick control lets you sling the ship’s grappling hook at any angle, a faint red line acting as a laser sight to help you aim. The gauge at top-left is a thrust strength meter of sorts; you can pretty much ignore it when you’re free-flying, but you’ll feel the difference if you’ve got something in tow. The timer right beside the power meter doesn’t cause a Game Over per se if it runs out. Instead, the current level begins raining down a hail of rocks that make the going much, much tougher!
Rusty’s very best levels are those that make the power meter an engaging mechanic. The one that sticks out most in my mind lets you turn on a fan that automatically lifts the ship and its cargo through an important passage, maximizing the number of crystals you can deposit before the rocks start falling. Another presents spikes aplenty, making you hop from safe spot to safe spot until your treasure collection is complete.
And then there are levels that made me wish Rusty had just used the power meter as a traditional Lunar Lander fuel gauge. Sometimes you’ll get excited after figuring out what needs to be done to clear your path, and then an empty power gauge will ground you for ten seconds until it’s recharged and you can effectively move again. In that way, Rusty Orb constantly swings from highs to lows, with the most intense levels being quite satisfying and the breather levels proceeding at an achingly slow pace. The game’s evolving dangers definitely pave the way for ship upgrades to help combat them, but you’re left with your regular-length grappling hook and lack of protective shields throughout.
Rusty Orb’s gray-and-brown aesthetic may remind the player that he or she is a glorified space miner at every turn, but those turns feel organically carved and not tiled at any rate. Rusty’s sprites look a bit fuzzy on the iPod Touch 4 Retina display but certainly acceptable on a small screen. It’s too bad there aren’t more perfectly spacey tunes where the single in-game track came from!
iFanzine Verdict: A fundamentally successful gameplay experiment that should intrigue physics puzzle and action puzzle fans on the lookout for something different, and who can do without much hand-holding. That said, the gameplay still has a lot of room to grow before it takes full advantage of its cool sci-fi premise.