Controlling Exo One’s strange spherical spacecraft, as it rolls over hills, soars through the skies, or skips across ocean waves, is an extraordinary feeling. It’s a rollercoaster ride. It’s making a perfect ski jump in a round of Tribes. It’s skimming the clouds in Tiny Wings. It’s all the good things about movement in gaming in one galaxy-spanning package.
Designed by Australian developer Exbleative, also known as Jay Weston, Exo One puts you in control of a mysterious alien spacecraft on a journey through time and space. The ship is essentially an intergalactic momentum-gathering marble, gaining speed as it rolls downhill and then launching into the air on the uptick. Once in the air, the ship can flatten into a disk, gliding through clouds until its energy is spent.
On ocean planets, the ship’s disk form can skip across the waves like a perfectly tossed stone. Or transform into a heavy ball and dive deep below the surface before rocketing up into the air once more.
This is movement you can feel. When your ship hits a jump just right and goes soaring into the stratosphere, it takes you with it. When you’re up high in the sky, and use the right trigger on your controller to dramatically dive towards the surface, your stomach drops. Exo One is a game that takes you on a ride. The intoxicating movement blends with lovely otherworldly vistas and ambient sound to create a series of perfect little moments. In other words, oooooo, ahhhhh, wheeee!
Exo One has a story to tell as well, but to be honest I’m a little hazy on the details. On the anniversary of mankind’s ill-fated first trip outside of the solar system, an alien signal transmits blueprints for the Exo One. As its pilot, you are tasked with traveling between alien planets (and the odd sun), piecing together the sparse narrative of the doomed Jupiter One exhibition. Exposition is delivered in brief flashes between chapters. Sometimes, when your ship plunges underwater or slams down particularly hard on the surface of a planet, you’ll get the odd static image of the Jupiter One crew.
Honestly, the story isn’t nearly as interesting as Exo One’s traversal, so most cutscenes in my playthrough were spent impatiently waiting to see what sort of new wrinkles the next chapter’s planet would have in store for my fantastic momentum sphere. Trees to dodge? Clouds to reach in order to charge the ship’s systems? Some sort of energy upgrade to collect? Yes, yes, the Jupiter One thing sure was tragic, let’s roll, people.
As mysterious as Exo One tries to be, with its cutscene flashes and lack of things like objective markers or minimaps on its vast alien worlds, the goal of the game is actually pretty straightforward. On every planet there is a blue light shooting into the sky. Your job is to get to that light and ride it to the next chapter.
Sometimes the blue light requires you to run into some glowing objective markers in order to power it up before you can leave. Other times you need to collect a special power-up in order for your ship to make it to the blue light. Most of the time, however, it feels like the goal of a chapter is to roll, dive, and glide across whichever planet you’re on until the blue light in the distance becomes the blue light right in front of you.
As much fun as the movement in Exo One is, there were times during my two-hour play-through when I caught myself staring off into the distance impatiently, trying to will the transport tower into existence. Levels with a lot of gliding through clouds or skimming across seas can get downright tedious.
But the blue light eventually becomes a transport tower, and I’m whisked away to another place for more whooshing, swooping, and soaring, and Exo One has the best whooshing, swooping, and soaring I’ve encountered in a long time.