To channel the late great Chris Farley: Do you remember the part in Apollo 13 (the movie and the real-life NASA crisis), where they used the moon's gravity to slingshot their crippled space shuttle around and back to Earth? That was awesome. That is also essentially the setup for Falanxia's Spaced Away, an iPad 2 game that is all about slingshotting your way to safety.
"You are lost," the game's goofy, overly descriptive marketing materials tell us. "You are in trouble. You are… Spaced Away." Well geez, OK. The game begins with some funny audio of two guys talking on the radio in space, but for the most part, there isn't much of a story.
That's perfectly fine -- games like this don't need a story, and the core flinging mechanic is fun, if a bit awkward-feeling at times. You're in a spaceship that has a limited amount of fuel, which lets you boost yourself forwards through space. You're also running out of air, which is basically a timer; complete each puzzle before it runs out. The destination is a safe space station, and the only way to get there is to enter the gravitational pull of a number of asteroids and planets between you and it, swinging from one to the next like an interstellar Tarzan. You must reach your destination before running out of air.
At times, Spaced Away feels more like you're assuming the role of the asteroids, playing catch with this little metal ship. Everything has a gentle lobbing quality that is pleasant, and doesn't quite feel like any other iPad game I've played. That said, the implementation isn't nearly as satisfying or tactile as the best games on the platform. Asteroid- and planet-hopping doesn't have the bounce of Cut the Rope or Angry Birds, and given the nature of the game's main system, that feels like a missed bet. It also lacks the personality of slower fare like Machinarium or Spacechem.
But still, Spaced Away commits to its design early on and approaches that concept with a good amount of focus. It's not too easy, either -- I've gotten about one-third through the game, and have only been making it through some of the tougher challenges by the skin of my teeth.
Spaced Away is a satisfying, consistent game, and iPad 2 owners looking for a new sort of puzzle challenge could find worse things to drop a couple bucks on. Plus, if you're anything like me, it'll make you want to rewatch Apollo 13.
Spaced Away [iTunes, $1.99]