Review: Mobigame Perfect Cell
Mobigame has had a rougher two years than any game developer deserves: its flagship iOS release Edge literally had to fight for its name and place in the App Store thanks to a trademark troll, and yet the small company persevered, releasing the simpler puzzler CrossFingers and eventually winning Edge back into the App Store -- complete with major enhancements. So the release of its latest title Perfect Cell ($6, version 1.0.5) is cause for some celebration: this new action and puzzle game incorporates everything the company has learned since Edge, and surpasses it in both graphics and depth, if not in universal appeal.
Perfect Cell is the story of a tiny alien organism that winds up in a lab on Earth, replicating until it reaches the size of a human head with octopus-like tentacles and the ability to fly. You take control of this glowing, slightly spooky creature as it busts out of a subterranean prison, typically slaying researchers as it moves from chamber to chamber of linear but complex mazes, and eventually developing both additional powers and stronger impediments to its escape. Each of the game’s 35 levels is a 2-D maze with 2.5-D presentation, such that the backgrounds change perspective as you float through the stages. Apart from occasional gameplay tips, there’s no dialogue during these levels, but you’ll begin to get the sense that some not entirely friendly military force has moved into the game’s five environments and taken over, making your movement more difficult as guns, lasers, and other items conspire to kill you.
Mobigame’s development genius here is in changing up the gameplay every few levels, making the action just different enough to keep you tense as you’re floating from chamber to chamber. Initially, you just need to worry about moving from place to place, swiping the screen quickly in a direction to dash-attack a person if they try to stop you. But when you discover second and third organisms like yourself, you can merge with them and then separate into multiple balls to trigger time-limited doors, elevators, or other moving objects with double switches—or a need for one stationary creature while another shifts around. Humans start out unarmed, then become capable of using guns, and later, shields. And what begins as virtual joystick-driven constant place to place action shifts mid-game to include a trick where you hold down on your character and draw a line for it to follow at a rapid pace, dodging traps that might normally be impossible to avoid at normal joystick speeds. You can quickly zap through whatever or whomever might be in your way, save for a solid wall.
Another element of the game that appears fairly early in the levels is its optional stealth approach, described by the developer as “infilitration”—odd given that you’re escaping rather than breaking into buildings. In any case, this refers to your ability to use less violent second paths to sneak your way through the levels without doing as much damage to the scientists and soldiers, the former of whom would prefer to cower or run from you rather than fighting at all. Virtually every obvious path from point A to point B is shadowed by a narrower and often partially obscured second route between them, requiring you first to discover a little nook in a wall and then to chisel the remaining rock or other material out by dashing in the right direction once or twice. Use these paths in the right way and you can keep your body count lower—arguably a counterintuitive way of playing a game that depicts your organism as adversarial and violent at the cellular level, but it’s a second way to play through the levels, regardless.
Perfect Cell stumbles a little by making you figure out how to simultaneously move two organisms at one with invisible virtual controls, expecting you to use different zones of the screen as swipe-based control areas—precision and confidence suffer during these segments, which could be aided by faint on-screen indicators. Additionally, despite evolutions of its level designs and modest changes to its backdrops, the game also suffers somewhat from repetition of its visual themes, which begin to feel samey after a few levels and tired after the first ten. On the other hand, Mobigame’s 2.5-D/3-D artwork is so much more detailed than Edge that it’s hard to criticize the graphics too much here, save to say that they feel deliberately glum in a way that the stylized, bright Edge did not. A brooding and more intermittent soundtrack picks up during certain action sequences, but otherwise relies on ambient sound effects and occasional chimes or chirps to light up your ears.
Despite some of its rougher parts, we genuinely enjoyed Perfect Cell, and find it easy to recommend to fans of action puzzlers and stealth games. It’s not a kid-friendly title and the alien-on-killing-spree theme won’t resonate with every player, but it’s smart and generally well-polished by today’s App Store standards. That Mobigame has again released a universal app with true iPad, iPhone, and iPod touch support in a single download makes it even more appealing, and the $6 price tag is reasonable given the quality of the content. Should this developer follow its prior track record and continue to add features after the initial release, we’ll certainly want to revisit it to see what it has evolved into; our guess is that even better things will follow.