April 17, 2014 2:50 PM | Lena LeRay
Luna's Wandering Stars is an action-puzzle game in which you must manipulate celestial bodies in real time, trying to add sufficient mass to one or more moons by running them into asteroids (and not into planets or other moons) before time runs out. It's built on actual principles of Newtonian physics such as mass, gravity, and momentum, but developer Serenity Forge remembered that sometimes you have to bend reality a bit to make a game fun.
When Luna's Wandering Stars begins, you are presented with a planet, a moon, and some asteroids in space. The game has you click and drag from the moon, establishing its trajectory and speed. The moon's initial path is shown to help guide you, and when you release the mouse button, the simulation comes to life. Your moon moves in accordance with the velocity you established, and it either hits and collects the mass of enough asteroids to beat the level, crashes into the planet, flies off the screen, or goes into some wacky orbit that never brings it into contact with the asteroids. If you win, you can move on to the next level; if you lose, you can retry. Your previous trajectory is shown to help you plan your next attempt and you can replay the previous attempt if you would like.
As the game progresses, more mechanics are introduced. At first, the asteroids stay still while you get used to the controls. Then they start being affected by the gravity of the planet, your moon (or moons, on some levels), and each other. As you go from planet to planet, you gain new abilities which, though not completely realistic, do interact with the realistic gravitational simulations. In the Venus levels, for example, you get the ability to use bursts of rocket propulsion to alter your moon's course. Unidirectional rockets on a moon isn't so realistic, but if we take their existence as a given then it makes sense that the rockets would be more effective farther from the gravitational force of a planet, and that is indeed how the rockets work in the game. Other mechanics (some controllable by the player, some not) are introduced at a rate that is easy to keep up with.
These combinations of realistic gravitational simulations with unrealistic powers are what makes the game fun. Luna's Wandering Stars is a series of goal-guided space physics sandbox levels; you have shovels and toy trucks with which to move the sand around, but it's still sand. No matter what tools you use, as long as your piles of sand end up in the right place, you've succeeded. Sometimes, the game lampoons its own inaccuracies in the dialogue boxes that come up at the beginning of the levels, adding a bit of extra humor to the mix.
Serenity Forge was trying to create a game which is fun in and of itself, but which also includes tangential learning about Newtonian physics. I believe they've succeeded. It has controls which are intuitive enough for anyone to use and an interface that supports experimentation until success is achieved, as well as giving players the ability to create and share their own levels. It's not too hard to meet the minimum requirements to move on to the next level, but beating every level with an optimal solution (getting all three of the gold asteroids) can be much harder, making it appropriate for multiple skill levels. If people really get into the level editor, there will likely be some brutally hard player-made maps, too.
Luna's Wandering Stars is not yet available on Steam, though they do have a Greenlight campaign going on. The regular price is $9.95, but the game is available as a pay-what-you-want deal on IndieGameStand until the 20th and 10% of the IndieGameStand sales will be donated to the Space Foundation. Luna's Wandering Stars is available for Windows and Mac, and Serenity Forge has plans to bring it to Linux in the future.