Splice: Tree of Life Review

Science: it’s no longer reserved for nerds and chemistry teachers stricken with cancer. Just kidding. Science, of course, makes the world go ’round. And while it may seem confusing to the uninitiated, there are certain video games that seek to turn the allure of science into entertaining diversions. Splice: Tree of Life is one of them, an intricate puzzler that finds you splicing molecules left and right to mutate your set of molecules into greatness. It’s a surprisingly elegant waltz through the building blocks of life that appeals to even non-scientific individuals.

Splice originally found a home on PC before it made its way to iPad. It also placed as one of the PAX 10 this year, and for good reason: Cipher Prime’s multi-layered puzzler is the very picture of serenity. Players are locked in thought over each and every move as the chance to evolve, or advance to the next level, lingers before them.

Each individual level starts with a pattern players must match. The layout has already been established. It’s up to you to masterfully splice molecules until you’ve matched the image. This involves selecting and repositioning pieces of the puzzle until you’ve filled in all the blank spaces of the organism. As you advance you “mutate,” while going back to attempt an old puzzle to best your splice count (the fewer moves the better) makes you “devolve.” The terms only really make sense in context of the puzzle pieces themselves on a pseudo-scientific level, but they go a long way in sustaining the illusion of elegance and surgical simplicity of the system itself.

Splice: Tree of Life is mesmerizing and serene as you power through each stage. Shaving off extra moves from each puzzle nets you the “angelic” title — and its soothing soundtrack is no different. It actually interacts with the gameplay on-screen. Should you make a move you aren’t satisfied with, you can utilize the stylistic rewind option by double-tapping the side of the screen reserved for such occasions. The move is erased, like time itself is being rewound, and the music rewinds in time as well. Simple. Neat. It’s a rudimentary touch, but works so well with the content that it becomes a gameplay augment you really come to appreciate, just like the fact that the game, like its puzzle piece, always seems to be evolving as well.

After you’ve dealt with singular stationary pieces for a while, more complexities are added to the mix, including pieces that blow up, stretch, and even divide. While you won’t be expected to master all types at once, they eventually come together in a symphony of movement that acts as mental gymnastics — they’re challenging to be sure, but nothing you can’t overcome with the right amount of effort. When you’ve completed the main set of levels and move on to the bonus puzzles themselves, that’s where the main draw lies: there are a cavalcade of deliciously devious additional puzzles to tackle that take things even further should you feel your brain is ready.

Where babies come from.

You wouldn’t know it from screenshots alone, but Splice: Tree of Life looks and feels fantastic. Swiping and maneuvering on-screen feels as natural as the PC version, and the soundtrack stands on its own. The soft hues and svelte layout of each puzzle work together to create an overwhelming calmness that invites you to soldier on even through the more difficult patches, which is the mark of a great puzzler.

If you’re looking for something different from what’s currently available on the App Store, Splice: Tree of Life is a worthy contender. It combines style, function, and an addictive puzzler nature into one neat package that should certainly be experienced if you’ve got $3.99 to burn.

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