Arghh, I hate feeling stupid, but then creating life should be hard.
Splice might sound like a simple game, but by golly it is not. The object of the game is to replicate cellular structures in a microbiological puzzle. At least that is what I think it might be about. It is highly abstract, and there is very little in terms of introducing the game. I felt thrown into a void with just an outline, and strands of DNA. After playing more than 3000 iOS games the last four years, and reviewing about 1000 of them I have grown to loathe tutorials worse than the plague. In Splice I yearn for a proper tutorial, I yearn to be held by the hand and guided for a bit. The three pages found in the hint section aren’t helping at all no matter how much I want them to help me out.
Within a limited number of splices you have to make sure that the outline is filled with cells to complete a strand. It might not sound complicated at all, but every move you make affect the entire strand. Cells have children depending on where, and how you place them. When you touch, and hold a cell all viable positions are shown as shadows. Dragging the cell to that place shows you how all other cells move, as a consequence. The move, or rather Splice is not completed until you let go of the cell. Dragging it to another position shows other possible moves, and you can of course drag it back to the starting position.
Even the first basic strands can be challenging, and this is not a kind of puzzler where luck can be your best weapon. Compared to Auditorium from Cipher Prime that I personally considered to be a non-game because it was simply too easy, and casual Splice is a behemoth of a challenge. New kinds of cells with new properties are introduced, as you reach new cellular sequences. Touching the center cell can mutate these. For example there is one that extends an extra cell straight out, and one that extends extra cells on all legs found beneath it in the structure.
What makes the game challenging is the fact that there is only a limited number of splices available. This is not your average iOS game where you can accept having less than three stars on harder levels. You either beat a level in Splice, or you don’t. I have spent hours going back, and forth trying to beat the same level without making much progress. Then I have put my headphones on, dived into the music, replayed a couple of levels and finally beat the one I found impossible. Getting into the game is crucial for me to succeed.
There is no get past a level for free option, and if you get stuck beyond salvation you have to resort to youtube. Thankfully the game has been out on Steam for a while, and there are proper walkthroughs showing how levels are beaten. As it takes a couple of seconds to actually beat a level I urge you to just look at the level you have trouble with, or you might spoil too many.
Cipher Prime has a level of polish to their games that are hard to match in the App Store: Auditorium, Pulse: Volume One and Fractal. Splice actually takes it one step further, and the entire game feels like one coherent unit. From the beautiful minimal graphics to the piano soundtrack it feels like a world worth immerging oneself in. The organic background moves with the cells if you tilt your iPad. Placing two fingers on the screen allows you to bend time, and this gives a cool blur effect and speeds up the music.
The music in itself is worth a mention. Written and performed by Dain Saint it is a beautiful piano soundtrack in seven pieces. It actually helps out to fade out the outside noise, and focus on solving the puzzle at hand. Repetitive in the same vein of Philip Glass, but at times making small Mozart like passages it is worthy a listen even if you don’t care to play the game. It is available at bandcamp for those interested.
Splice is the most immersive puzzle game I have played the last couple of years. It manages to drag me into a microcosmos the way only console games, and iOS classics like Space Invaders: Infinity Gene have managed. The lack of tutorial, and way to skip ahead when a level won’t let itself be solved are the only negatives. It is not for the casual game looking for a quick fix though, and to really appreciate it you need a good set of headphones and some time to spend splicing.