Solar 2 is easy to compare to Flow, the PSN game from thatgamecompany because on the surface they look very much alike: You play as an object that flies around a 2D space trying to grow bigger. But this surface comparison ignores the more nuanced mechanics of Solar 2. This is a game that is just as much about creation as it is destruction. The endgame may be a black hole that consumes the entire universe, but to get to that point, you must build and nurture multiple solar systems full of life.
You begin the game as an asteroid. To increase your mass and grow, you must crash into other asteroids and absorb them. If you hit the other asteroids too gently, you’ll just bounce off of them. You must crash into them; you must be violent.
From this cosmic violence you’ll grow into a planet, and the mechanics of growth change. Crashing into asteroids now decreases your mass, and if you lose too much mass, your planet simply shatters into pieces. Growth requires more finesse. You have to align your planet with an asteroid in such a way that the asteroid gets caught in orbit and becomes a moon. Only then can you absorb them and increase in mass. (While absorbing an orbiting asteroid is an exceptionally “game-y” mechanic, I prefer to think that the new moon slowly loses its orbit and crashes into the planet at such slow speeds that mass is gained rather than lost. But that’s just me.).
Eventually your planet will become capable of sustaining life. Evolution begins and speeds along, and soon you’re inhabited by a space-faring species. The interplay between this life and the player is an interesting symbiotic relationship. The universe is populated by other hostile solar systems and planets, and any alien ships will attack you on sight. You need life of your own for protection, and the more that you nurture that life by continuing to grow your planet the stronger that life becomes. But they’re not under your control. The friendly spaceships that fly around the planet act on their own, and sometimes they can be annoying. You have to keep catching asteroids in orbit in order to grow, but if you make a mistake and collide with a space rock, then your life panics and destroys any asteroids around you. The life is interested in protecting its home planet, but it’s not interested in growth, which is understandable. Their destruction interferes with your creation because your creation leads to their destruction.
Depending on how much your life interferes with your asteroid gathering, you might be glad or sad when you finally grow big enough to become a star and kill all life on your old planet. Any space ships currently on patrol when this change occurs turn from green, indicating that they’re friendly, to white, indicating a ship with no home world. They instantly turn on you, and you can either run them down to fully obliterate all your life or simply run away and leave them homeless.
Either way, advancing to star form is a bittersweet reward. Even if you hated your life, they still protected you from aliens and now you’re helpless. Your act of creation leaves you open for destruction. But now that you’re a star, you can start building you own solar system. You collect stray planets the same way that a planet collects an asteroid, and each planet in your orbit can have its own orbiting asteroids. Again you must nurture these planets so they grow to sustain life, resulting in a solar system full of life planets, able to take on any other system and defeat it. It’s the same symbiotic relationship as before but on a much larger scale.
As you watch over each of the planets in your solar system, you’re faced with a choice: you can once again sacrifice the life planets to make yourself bigger, or you can try to turn each orbiting planet into another star. It’s not unusual to see a two star system or even a cluster of four. At one point I even created an 11 star cluster. But with that many stars in your system, it becomes hard to progress because there are too many mouths to feed. The game balances who gets the mass of any absorbed planets so that all stars grow equally; a two star system takes twice as long to grow as a single star system. Unchecked growth can therefore hinder your progress; the careful application of destruction is necessary in order to keep the size of your system in check.
My 11 star system was made up of only small stars that never seemed to grow. Then I collided with a back hole. Seven stars were instantly sucked in, and any planets that escaped were flung into deep space. Only four stars survived the encounter, but this was a much more manageable number, and I was able to grow each one fairly quickly. The near total destruction of my massive star cluster was necessary. That destruction allowed for more creation.
Eventually your star will gain so much mass that it becomes a black hole, instantly destroying any other star or planet in your solar system. At this point, the game is about pure destruction: You can eat any hostile alien life and there’s nothing they can do about it. You can even absorb smaller black holes if they’re nearby. You grow bigger and bigger until you suck in the entire universe: The Big Crunch. And with all the mass of the universe condensed into a single point, there’s another Big Bang and the game starts over.
Progress in Solar 2 comes from a balance of creation and destruction. Every planet you absorb, every space-faring species that you make homeless contributes to the growth of your asteroid/planet/star/black hole. All creation stems from some form of mass destruction. In Solar 2, even the end of the universe is just the beginning of another.
You can follow the Moving Pixels blog on Twitter.