Cyto puts you in control of the world’s cutest piece of cytoplasm. A smiling, blinking, blue amoeba missing its memories and desperately searching for its friends and family. As usual in the puzzle platform genre, it’s all a thinly veiled excuse to fling, stick, and drop your way through a slew of bite-sized levels in an attempt to collect three tokens. In this case, glowing pieces of Cyto’s past.
Developer Room 8 delivers a vibrant and ominous little world, filled with painterly orbs and tentacles dwarf your microscopic protagonist and allude to the body of something sinister. The playing field is abuzz with life as microbes pulsate and motes of glowing particles spiral in all directions. It even seems like Cyto is reacting to it all with wide eyes, agape mouth, and looks of trepidation mid-flight. Tying the experience together is an evocative piano soundtrack; part nostalgic waltz, part funeral dirge, it’ll have you taking the game’s recommendation to use headphones seriously. Cyto tickles a lot of the same synapses as Chillingo cousin Contre Jour and the comparison goes further with the game’s absorbing design.
In Cyto many of the game’s 81 levels stick around after the score screen has faded. This is due in no small part to the surprising sense of choice that runs throughout the game. Instead of having essentially two ways to complete each level – the easy way, where you careen straight to the exit, or the substantial way involving collectibles – it’s often apparent that you took one of a handful of paths to the level’s glowing exit orb. The meticulous arrangement of the game’s sticky surfaces, thorny obstacles, and precious open space allows for ample experimentation as you try to chart your course to the far corners of each level. It’s possible for each player to finish a level differently
Cyto’s nine levels in each world deliver shades of the same cerebral thrill that made Portal so spectacular. Instead of slingshotting around, proverbial guns blazing, you’ll have to digest portions of the level as you take yourself through the paces and consider cause and effect. When pulled off perfectly, the game becomes an opponent you outplayed in chess, conquered at the hands of your mental trapeze work. Easily the crowning jewel here is the game’s “gold” levels, given out as sadistic rewards for perfecting the eight levels that came before. Each one caps off the mechanics of that section, and adds huge longevity to the game by sucking you into a brain-busting challenge that’s best served when you have plenty of patience on hand.
Mechanically, Cyto is also a breath of fresh air. Sure it’s got all the typical add-ons like wind, portals, and bouncing pads, but every new feature rolls out in such that each stage has a healthy mixture of what you’ve seen and what you haven’t. Function even becomes form as new obstacles like multiplying spikes and fading memories throw a wrench in the game’s measured pace and turn levels into tense races against the clock. The result is an experience that very much keeps you on your toes…perhaps too much so, in some cases. The game takes a noticeable hit by demanding extreme precision, but not delivering it in return. Shots that launch you onto a safe piece of grass during one try seem to bounce you off a wayward edge during another; detaching Cyto to roll down an edge to the exit will often send him tumbling the other way, all with little to explain why. Luckily, the game traces your last five shots with angled dots, making retries far less frustrating than they could be.
Cyto is currently available for iPhone/iPad for $0.99