Splice: Tree of Life, a microbiological puzzler from Cipher Prime Studios, is now available from the app store. Featuring gorgeous art design, smooth controls, and heady puzzles, Splice is a bit of a head-scratcher that ultimately satisfies.

Splice: Tree of Life Pros:

– Gorgeous art design and deviously clever puzzles

– Soundtrack is relaxing and responds to touch input

– Tap and drag controls are easy to use

– Pure puzzling experience without timers or points

– GameCenter integration for achievements

Splice: Tree of Life Cons:

– Limited replay value

– Steep difficulty curve with no hint/skip options

Splice tosses you into its first puzzle with little fanfare or direction, simply presenting a strand-of-sausage type of object with positional outlines around it. The goal of each puzzle is to rearrange the organic structure to fit within the outlines. You do this by dragging on any one of the strand’s cells, which will have an effect on the position of all of the rest as you move them around the board. Shadows indicate where cells will go, giving you visual feedback as you try to determine which move to make. If a move is invalid for one reason or another, the cells snap back into place. Early puzzles aren’t too difficult, though it’s not always evident why cells react the way they do. There appears to be some symmetrical balance at play, but there’s a good deal of trial-and-error necessary. Before too long, you’ll encounter special cells that can extend or split into multiple pieces when the anchor cell is tapped. Any cell on the strand can only ever have two “children” forking off of it, a limiting factor that plays into the strategy of figuring out each solution. It’s easy to get bogged down in a puzzle that doesn’t seem to have a logical answer, but keep pressing and thinking outside of the box and you’ll eventually stumble onto the answer. We would have been more comfortable with some rudimentary explanation or tips & tricks up front, even a hint function would have been nice, but Splice feels more tuned to hardcore puzzlers who probably bypass that type of help anyway.

The graphic design reminds us of delving into a microscope slide with intricate bacterial formations within. The backdrop has a liquid-like feel to it, and the smooth animations of the structures further reinforce that feeling. A scroll bar on the screen’s right side allows you to undo moves or start over, and your limited number of remaining splices is indicated on-screen, as well. The piano-based musical accompaniment has a relaxing feel, matching its laidback style that doesn’t incorporate any type of timer or point system. The controls are drag-based, offering a natural feel to interacting with the on-screen objects.

Replay value is low, as the lack of quantifiable data doesn’t lend itself to improvements upon additional playthroughs. However, the experience itself may be worth tackling some of the puzzles again. There are more than a dozen GameCenter achievements to snag, too. It should be noted that owners of the original iPad will likely have issues with crashing and sluggish performance, though iPad 2 and current iPad owners should be fine. An iPad-only offering for $3.99, Splice: Tree of Life is an enjoyable 4-Dimple brain-bender.

Pocket RPG Review

Pocket RPG, a dual-stick action-adventure title with light RPG elements, has been developed by Tasty Poison Games and Crescent Moon Games. It is now available from the app store. Featuring dungeon-crawling fun, bite-sized adventures, and multiple character classes to use, Pocket RPG is an enjoyable experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Pocket RPG Pros:

– Polished 3D graphics create fun and immersive worlds

– Soundtrack varies from epic battle themes to subdued relaxing music

– Dual-stick controls are responsive and easy to use

– Multiple character classes, tons of weapons, upgradeable skills

– Bite-sized gameplay has pick-up-and-play quality

– GameCenter integration for global leaderboards and achievements

Pocket RPG Cons:

– Weapon and experience resets can be a turn off for some players

– Some small bugs

– Lacking clear save slots

Playing as a Dark Ranger, a Blade Master, or a Battle Mage, you’ll wend your way through 7 distinct adventures, each with multiple levels to complete in order to achieve victory. Each level contains swarms of small enemies to dispatch, as well as a handful of larger enemies that require a bit more persistence. The final big boss you face in the last level of an adventure is naturally the most difficult. The bosses will also have a bunch of smaller minions surrounding them to try to keep you at bay. The manner with which you eliminate your enemies will depend on which character type you’ve chosen to play. The Ranger utilizes long-range attacks with his trusty bow-and-arrow, the Blade Master dual-wields axes and swords to inflict melee damage upon his adversaries, and the Mage summons magic abilities and casts wicked spells upon his opposition.

The RPG elements come into play as you gain experience through battle, leveling up your character by earning skill points that can be spent on mastering character skills or obtaining stronger armor. These newfound abilities are persistent throughout the subsequent adventures. You also earn gold through loot drops, killing enemies, destroying environmental objects, damaging shrubs/trees, and earning a variety of achievements along the way. The gold is spent mastering various weapon classes, which makes obtaining weapons within these classes more likely as you progress through the game. Your character can be equipped with two weapons, a ring, and an amulet at any given time. Items can be purchased and sold with the shopkeeper, as well. Don’t get too used to the slick weapons that you do acquire, though, as your experience and weaponry is reset at the beginning of each new quest.

The aim in Pocket RPG is not to get to a beastly point where new weapon acquisitions cannot compare to your fully upgraded arms and you cut through throngs of enemies like a hot knife through butter. The goal is bolstering your character and making more powerful items more prevalent as you progress, keeping things fresh, interesting, and competitive. In most cases, when the character loses his life, he must restart from the beginning of the quest. You can pick up an Ankh that will give you a bit of a reprieve, allowing you to retain your current equipment and stature. They are interesting design elements that we feel work pretty well and give the game a distinct feel.

raphically, Pocket RPG exhibits the same king of polish that we’ve come to expect from Crescent Moon Games, despite some early glitches and bugs that will surely be addressed quickly. The 3D visuals look terrific, battle animations are smooth and fun, and the UI layout doesn’t clutter up the screen. The environments each have a different look, and there are secret destructible walls that hide loot as well as traps to avoid, like crumbling floors, poison-spitting statues, and spears that pop out of the floor. The soundtrack mixes epic battle tracks with subdued quieter music, though both are equally enjoyable. Controls can be set to use to large on-screen buttons in fixed positions or a more advanced setup that uses invisible buttons that appear wherever you place your thumbs. As usual, the left button controls movements while the right button is used for attacking. Gauges indicate your remaining health and your nearness to leveling up again. The advanced setup was most desirable and we found the dual-stick controls very easy to use. Replay value is decent, with GameCenter support offering leaderboards and tons of achievements to earn. Random level generation is a plus, and the differences in gameplay based on character selection are enough to compel us to play again as a different class, though not until the update that adds a save slot for each character type. Currently, switching to another character will overwrite your current player. We have thoroughly enjoyed the experience thus far and expect to for some time. A separate iPhone version is expected to be released in about a month, so until then, you’ll only be able to play on the big screen. Currently on sale for $2.99 (regularly $4.99), Pocket RPG is a solid 4.5-Dimple experience.