'Satellina': Is a Quintessential Example of Mobile Gaming

Eric Swain

While it's definitely a bit more difficult than I was expecting, the difficulty of Satellina is fair when the game is behaving itself.


Publisher: Moon Kid
Rated: N/A
Players: 1
Price: $1.99
Platforms: iOS
Developer: Moon Kid
Release date: 2009-01-29

Satellina is the quintessential mobile game. Press your finger against the screen and you are in control of a little white icon. Move your finger around, and the icon moves along with it. You don't even have to touch where the little icon is. Anywhere on the screen will do, and that icon will move along with you.

The object of every level to collect all the circles on the screen. You can only touch the green circles. Touching any other circle will cause the level to reset. When all the green circles are collected, the yellow ones will turn green and the red ones will turn yellow.

Of course, collecting all of these circle is not going to be easy. The circles move around. They sway from side to side, move through each others and orbit other (often differently colored) circles. As the levels go on, the patterns grow more complex. Finish as fast as you can because your on a timer. The levels are grouped in batches of five, and if you finish fast enough, the main menu will unlock more batches. That's pretty much the whole game.

There are only 50 levels grouped into 10 batches at the moment, but it's easy to see the developers adding more over time as has become the custom in mobile gaming.

What is probably most interesting about the game is its art design. I've been calling them circles, but really, these shapes resemble something more like an atom, a dot in the center with a circle around it, parted in section for the sake of a smaller orbiting dot. They pop against the black background and connect to other atoms in chains giving the whole game a chemistry motif. They start off in looser and smaller collections, but later on when your collecting long chains of colored atoms, while dancing around the yellows and red, this motif becomes more apparent.

Frankly some of the patterns' placement and movements are quite beautiful and more interesting to look at than they are to collect. The interconnected spiral of greens and yellows or the weaving of greens through a dangerous field of reds are wonders of geometric beauty and are instantly recognizable as the type of challenge that they will present. The problem put before you is never how to pull it off, but whether or not you can.

This is where I ran into some hiccups. I'm not sure if my phone wasn't powerful enough or if the app needs to be better optimized, but there were points where the game would lose a significant amount of frame rate and stutter. This is not ideal when you're trying to navigate intricately devised patterns of atoms with little margin for error. A single drop in the frame rate means that your cursor isn't responding, and you've moved right into a yellow atom where there wasn't one a second before. This would happen anytime that I was listening to a podcast while playing the game, but it happened a few times even when Satellina was the only program that I was running at the time. I was playing it on a Samsung Galaxy S3, so take that for what it's worth.

The other issue that I had, and again I don't know if it was my phone or the program, was that sometimes the movement of my finger wasn't matched one-to-one by the cursor. I would start out fine at the bottom of the screen, but by the time that I began avoiding atoms at the top, my finger would cover the play field. I was moving my finger more than I was getting a reaction out of the cursor. I've never had this response problem with other apps, but I'm not discounting the idea that it possibly could have something to do with the screen.

Neither of the issues above are a problem with the early levels. I breezed through the first few batches, hitting well below the 2:30 target time to unlock the next two batches in the triangle shaped menu. But then the difficulty ramped up. Suddenly, Satellina wasn't a fun little time waster, but something to be conquered. This is not a game to play in those few in-between moments. You have to be willing to devote a few minutes at a time to it. It only records your time after you finish the whole batch, not a single level, so while you can pause it, the pressure keeps escalating.

Ultimately, Satellina is fine. It's definitely a bit more difficult than I was expecting, but the difficulty is fair when the game is behaving itself. There's no random element of physics to muck any attempt up. It's not a game I'd go back to though. When I finally got through that last batch with a rather embarrassing time, I felt no compunction to go back and try again.

It's not going to displace the likes of Threes! or Desert Golfing or the half dozen other games that I already have resident on my phone to while away those in between moments, though I bet there are challenge seekers and enthusiasts in the mobile ecosystem that would find this appealing. If you're one of those, you'll like it.


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