It turns out destruction is imminent for the homeworld of platypus biologists Spike and Syndey, and it's up to you to save them!... the part of "you" here being played by a cell in the first stages of its growth, barely able to defend itself against incoming threats or generate enough energy to move. Just like that one meteor movie with Bruce Willis! CellCraft is one part resource management, one part puzzle, one part strategy, and even one part funny. Oh, and did I mention? It's (*gasp!*)... educational!
The game, created by CellCraft Team (Anthony Pecorella, Lars Doucet, Chris Gianelloni, and Hibiki Harutois), is primarily controlled with the mouse, clicking and dragging on the outer area of your cell to move it, and clicking on the various buttons on screen to create new enzymes or perform other actions. Most of the game is actually given over to resource management; your cell needs both Nucleic Acid and Amino Acids to perform most actions, and initially you'll need to pick both acids up by moving over them, but eventually you'll be able to generate your own. Sort of. Not well versed in the respected field of "Making Cells Do Stuff What Is All Scientific Like"? Don't worry. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical about the educational capabilities of a platypus, but it turns out Spike and Sydney do an excellent job detailing the controls and finer points of cell growth as you go along. Before long, you'll be generating and recycling enzymes with the best of 'em!
The game is broken up into levels, each of which introduces new elements to the gameplay, and has new challenges to overcome as the story progresses and you move to new environments with new threats. If you find your eyes glazing over during the short periods the game takes to describe the nitty-gritty of how cells actually work, don't worry; most of it is just there to provide you with extra information, should you so desire it, and can usually be skipped. As long as you're comfortable with the notion that, somewhere, you're making your fifth grade teacher cry.
Analysis: If you ask me, two of the greatest stealth educators of all time have to be Bill Nye and Alton Brown. It's sort of sad that in some cases have to be sneaky about imparting knowledge via entertainment, like telling your dog you're going to the park when you're really going to the V-E-T; it seems like calling something "educational" is a good way to get someone to skim right past it. Of course, as far as "stealth" goes, CellCraft ignores that bit, because after a few minutes of play you'll probably have learned or relearned at least the very basics of what you should have already picked up in junior high biology. The game mostly does a very good job at mixing the knowledge in with the actual gameplay, which is actually pretty captivating once you get the hang of it. The tutorial is very good at popping up just when you need it, so you rarely wind up feeling overwhelmed. Despite being an educational title, CellCraft also knows not to hold your hand too much, so the challenge level is fairly nice and constant.
Of course, that said, there's a weird disassociation between the between chapters cinematics and the gameplay itself. While it is quirky, weird, and cute, it sort of feels like it's just there to lighten up the gameplay, as if the developers felt it wouldn't be received as well without the cartoonish aspect and tucked in your furry hosts. Make no mistake; Sydney and Spike are adorable in the way that only one of nature's most ridiculous creatures can be, but they still feel a little out of place here... especially during the gameplay itself when they just spew biology at you while staring straight ahead like furry robots.
A lot of people are unfortunately going to pass by this game because of its relatively dry and slow first few stages. CellCraft has its audience, and if you're a fan of strategy, or even platypus, this is probably the game for you. With its relatively slow gameplay, it isn't what you'd call action-packed, but it's not trying to be. It sets out to be a surprisingly complex and smart title to educate as much as it entertains, and for the most part, it succeeds. The amount of work put into it by its talented crew is more than a little impressive, and the end result is something that should keep you busy (and thoughtful) for quite some time.