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Review: CELL 13 – platforms, puzzles, and portals

Put on your thinking cap for thirteen physics-based challenges

Price: $2.99/£2.99
Version: 1.2
Size: 104 MB
Developer: Donut Games
Platform: iPhone & iPad

Puzzle platformers are pretty popular on iOS, a curious breed of games that walk the line between jumpy action platforming and thinky logical puzzling. CELL 13 is the latest entry into this sub-genre, and although you’ll be controlling a little robot in a strange world, the emphasis is very much on the puzzles here.

The premise behind CELL 13 is that you’re in control of a little spherical robot whose only real ability is rolling left and right. By pushing objects around using the game’s physics engine, your job is to escape a series of prison-like compounds full of increasingly complex security systems.


Your robotic pal Chester will sporadically talk you through levels

There’s no jump button to contend with or complex maneuvers to learn. Simply tap either side of the screen to move in that direction. This simplicity lets the controls take a back seat while your brain readjusts the mirrors and gets ready to drive. Some serious creativity has gone into the design of these levels, and they’ll leave you smiling once you figure out how to conquer them.

Many of the challenges involve paired magic portals – roll into a green box and you’ll pop out of a matching green box elsewhere in the level. These aren’t just used for simply moving from A to B, though – you’ll also need to use them for things like transporting other objects, or passing laser beams from one side of the cell to another.


Laser bridges! The laser goes into one box and out the other – very helpful

Falling into a box from up high will give you enough momentum to be fired out of the other box and across an obstacle, really highlighting the use of physics in the way these puzzles have been designed. It’s not just a case of thinking outside the box, but also rotating the box, pushing the box, and ultimately warping into one box and out of another. We hope you like boxes.

The fact that these puzzles are physics-based is a double-edged sword. Though it makes problem solving a more tangible affair, in which you really feel like you have control of what’s going on, it also requires a level of precision that the game world doesn’t always provide. Blocks often tumble into useless positions or wobble free from where they’re supposed to go. It’s a little too easy to put things into an unwinnable state with a single wrong move, which sort of kills the fun of experimenting with the physics objects. Thankfully, you can always revert to a checkpoint so you don’t lose too much progress.


Puzzles including bouncing balls and hard-to-reach switches are pretty satisfying to work through

CELL 13 borrows heavily from the computer game Portal, not just in its judicious use of colored portals but also insofar as incorporating bouncy orange paint, orb-like robots and laser bridges. It’s a bit unoriginal, yes, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing – a two-dimensional take on the clever puzzle action of Portal would be welcome on iOS.

Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the fact that the game is pretty buggy and has a tendency to act up at times. The overall impression is that despite the pleasant graphics, it’s lacking a little polish. The robot glides around kind of unnaturally, while the camera doesn’t pan to follow you on its own – you have to manually swipe to see what’s going on. Except, sometimes it does move on its own, which is confusing to say the least. Character movements have a tendency to be a bit jittery and occasionally the physics objects just disappear for no discernible reason. None of these are game-breaking issues but they do add up.


We’re not supposed to be out there, but the game bugged out… time to start over again

Ultimately this is a game which shows a lot of promise but suffers from a few irksome niggles. That said, if you like the sound of puzzling through a portal-filled platformer and don’t mind a challenge, it’s most certainly worth a download.