Updated: Perfect Cell Review

Perfect Cell recently received an update that addresses two of our problems with the game’s controls, plus adds some concept art that you can unlock by collecting the prisms hidden in certain levels.

The first control issue they addressed is how quickly you can move when your health is low. Before, the closer you got to dying, the more sluggish your movements became, which often prevented you from escaping whatever danger you were in. Now, even when your health is low, you remain fairly nimble– a welcome change.

They also included a work-around for the unresponsive swipe-to-dash mechanism. Before, the way to dash– one of the key attacks in the game– was to swipe your finger on the screen. The problem was that it didn’t work reliably. They haven’t fixed the swiping mechanic, but they’ve made it possible to dash by double-tapping in the direction you want to go. This is an imperfect solution, but it gets the job done.

The unlockable concept art is kind of cool, but most people probably won’t feel driven to collect prisms simply to unlock new sketches. It would be nice if you were rewarded instead with new powers or something that affected the gameplay.

Regardless, the control tweaks make Perfect Cell quite a bit more pleasant to play, so if you were on the fence about buying the game before, it’s probably worth your while now. The game’s not perfect– they still haven’t addressed the pacing issues or some of the cheap deaths mentioned below– but it’s certainly heading in the right direction.

From premise to gameplay, Perfect Cell is a beautiful oddity. In the game, a cluster of alien cells crashes to earth on a meteorite. Scientists put the cells in a Petri dish and bring them to an underwater military base for observation. Over time, the cells evolve into a super-powerful, floating octopus-like organism with a serious case of fight-or-flight syndrome. That’s where you come in. To guide this creature to freedom, you’ll have to make it all the way through an obstacle-filled military base.

Perfect Cell is fairly unlike anything we’ve seen on iOS before, but it takes inspiration from plenty of great games on other platforms. The escape premise– plus the ruthless slaughtering of unarmed scientists–brings ‘ňúSplosion Man to mind, while the design and feel of the military compound is straight out of Shadow Complex. Also, one of the chief gameplay tactics you’ll have to use is enemy evasion, much like in the Metal Gear Solid series. In fact, it’s possible to play the whole game without killing anyone– something that’s fun to try on a second play-through. The developers have weaved these elements together and added ideas of their own in a way that feels very fresh and interesting.

Put them up against the wall.

Much of what you’ll do in the game is solve environmental puzzles to advance through the levels. Mostly what this means is that you’ll have to hover over switches to open doors, but you’ll find many variations on this idea. Your alien can also split into two or three squishy purple organisms, which you’ll occasionally need to do to advance. These puzzles are generally pretty straightforward, but they’re also fun to solve.

Aside from puzzles, you’ll also have to deal with a variety of enemy types. Many enemies are armored and can’t be killed from the front, so you’ll have to sneak behind them to take them out. Some enemies can’t be killed at all, like the military men wearing bomb squad padding. Also, the environments are alive with laser beams that flicker and move, shipping crates on conveyor belts, and gun turrets affixed to security cameras. Your fleshy cephalopod body hardly stands a chance.

He’s right behind us, isn’t he?

Or that would be the case if you weren’t such a bad-ass. You may not be equipped with firepower, but you can dash like a bullet. You have two different dash moves in Perfect Cell: A standard dash you perform by swiping on the screen, and a charged dash, which makes your alien zip along a path you draw, killing almost everything in the way.

Of course, you can die too. Your health recharges if you avoid being hit, but when enemies attack in Perfect Cell, they come at you at full force. Making matters worse, as you lose health your alien becomes less responsive to your control input. It starts to move slower and droop toward the ground. This is actually a very cool and realistic effect, but it becomes a real pain later in the game when the environment is heavily intersected with deadly lasers. All too often, one wrong move in these sections will start you ricocheting between laser beams too quickly to escape, resulting in insta-death. It’s a real buzz-kill when one tiny miscalculation, no matter how far into the level you are, means restarting from the beginning.

Touchscreen path of destruction.

And while that type of punishment feels fair in a game like Super Meat Boy, which has short levels and pixel-perfect controls, it feels almost unbearably frustrating in Perfect Cell, where the controls are often too loose to handle the obstacles. We ended up replaying some whole levels half a dozen times or more because the controls weren’t tight enough to get us through the laser traps we encountered.

Making matters worse is that the regular dash move is extremely unreliable. Your swipes are just as likely to result in you bumping into an enemy (and alerting him to your presence) as they are in you dashing him to death. We ended up abandoning this move altogether where possible, and stuck with the charged dash instead.

Aside from the imprecise controls and the unreliable dash move, the biggest problem in Perfect Cell is the pacing. The first 11 stages are so easy that we honestly didn’t think it was possible to die in the game, no matter how many bullets we took. Then the difficulty picked up nicely until the last 10 levels or so, which are so full of insta-death laser traps as to be joy-crushingly aggravating. Smoothing out the difficulty would go a long way toward making the game fun yet properly challenging the whole way through.

But for all of our complaints and nit-picks, we had a great time with Perfect Cell. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric game with a level of detail you rarely see in iOS titles. Perfect Cell has its faults, but if you like challenging games, this one is worthy.

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