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iPhone  header logo

Cell Bound

For: iPhone   Also on: iPad

Insane in the membrane

Product: Cell Bound | Developer: Hothead Games | Publisher: Hothead Games | Format: iPhone | Genre: Puzzle | Players: 1 | Version: Europe | App version: 1.0
Cell Bound iPhone, thumbnail 1
It’s often said that puzzle games are easier to play than to describe, but that’s not really the case with Cell Bound, the latest from the increasingly prolific Hothead Games.

A series of coloured spherical blobs descend from all angles onto a nucleus inside a petri dish, and it’s your job to match five or more of these like-coloured cells to clear room for more incoming particles. You accomplish this by simply rotating the dish with your finger.

Cytoplasm for sore eyes

The difficult part comes in playing the game, because it takes a couple of tries to acclimatise to both the control scheme and the pace of the action, which ramps up fairly quickly after what seems like a fairly gentle start.

Once you’re accustomed to keeping your finger held down on the screen, making fine adjustments to spin the dish like an expert turntablist, there’s an immediate satisfaction to gathering large groups of cells in the default Burst mode before tapping the centre of the screen to pop them all. As you do so, the dominant colour dissipates like coloured paint in water.

I'll be bacteria

Unfortunately, the happy feeling doesn’t last very long. Hothead is a little too keen to overwhelm you, and once you’ve burst a single dish’s worth of clusters the cells come thick and fast. Mistakes are harshly punished - if you allow a cell to hit another of a different colour, it turns black and becomes inert.

With the mass of cells growing ever more unwieldy as it expands, you soon find yourself in a situation that’s almost impossible to remedy, with the Game Over screen popping up shortly afterwards.

The Game Center leaderboards bear this complaint out – at the time of writing, a few individuals (including this reviewer) sit on very similar scores near the top, while those languishing near the bottom clearly haven’t got to grips with the idea that building up large clusters is the key to big points.

Weedier molecule

This idea could have made for an interesting risk/reward mechanic – do you amass a large collection that’s tricky to manoeuvre, or give yourself more time by bursting early at the cost of losing points?

Sadly, the early game makes the first the only sensible option, while the fast pace means the latter is the only possibility as you near the end.

Infinite and Timer modes do little to alleviate this issue. Though inert cells are removed, so is the fun of destroying huge clusters, as the cells automatically pop when five or more are linked.

There’s a glimmer of a good idea in Timer in that connecting smaller clusters of unpopped cells is the key to getting a high score, but again it’s over all too soon.

It’s a curious decision, as Cell Bound’s relaxing music lulls you into a false sense of security, promising a laid-back puzzler that never materialises.

Instead, as you swirl your finger madly, desperately trying to find a single link that will stave off the end for a matter of seconds, you can’t help but wish that the developer’s name was Coolhead instead.
Cell Bound
Reviewer photo
Chris Schilling | 22 June 2011
Cell Bound has the nucleus of a great puzzler, but the rush to introduce new ingredients contaminates this interesting experiment
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