If there’s a DSM-IV of video game character mental disorders, then half of it must be taken up with amnesia. Game designers love amnesia, because it provides an easy excuse to explain things that a character should already know. There’s no evidence that players love amnesia as much as game designers do, but it’s an innocuous cliche and games like Cyto can rise above it.
In Cyto, the amnesiac hero is a stretchable cell floating through what may or may not be a watery environment. It’s hard to be certain exactly what’s going on, since the environment doesn’t make much sense in real world terms. It looks pretty, though, and in game terms everything is perfectly clear: this is a physics puzzle, and your task is to fling Cyto around each level until he gets to the exit, earning stars by picking up the three bonus items along the way.
In this game, the bonus items are Cyto’s memories. Collect enough of them and you’ll unlock the story along with the usual additional worlds to explore. Cyto is a cute character, and we enjoyed his thought bubble musings as we played through the levels, but his story is confined to a few comic book panels and the promise of a “grand finale coming soon.” The story has so little to do with anything going on in the game that you have to wonder why the developers bothered with it at all.
The gameplay is as strong as the story is weak, though. Cyto plays a lot like Cut the Rope, except that you’re launching your cell instead of swinging your candy. The methods of travel are different, but the patterns of movement and the obstacles are almost the same. You’ll spend a lot of time hooking on to or bouncing off of other cells. Some of the cells rotate like wheels, others are covered with jelly that works like a powerful trampoline. There are walls, teleport portals, currents to ride, and plenty of spiky red things that will kill you.
The obstacles sometimes feel a little too familiar– especially the teleport portals– because so many games have used them already. Cyto’s movement adds a breath of fresh air, though. It’s fun to fling him across the screen, but that’s not his only trick. You can also move him by stretching him between two anchor points, and even make him fire himself like a slingshot while he’s stretched. This flexibility gives you a lot of options when you’re trying to solve a level.
The levels are cleverly designed, too. Each world is a series of tricky little variations on one or two ideas. The game teaches you the basics at the beginning of each world, then steadily ramps up the difficulty. Getting three stars in each of a world’s 24 levels unlocks an even more difficult 25th level, which usually requires some lateral thinking to solve. The smooth difficulty curve makes beating the game a satisfying experience.
Cyto doesn’t break a lot of new ground, and its vestigial story does almost nothing for it. Mood and good gameplay count for a lot, though, and this game has plenty of both. The cool colors and music stand out in a cartoonish genre, and the levels are challenging enough to keep you engaged until the end. Cyto is a very good game, one that you’ll play through and remember fondly afterwards– unless you get amnesia, of course.