Review by Mark Chen, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2012


Slick puzzle game's frustrations can demotivate learners

Subjects & skills
  • Math
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Pros: Visual design and music are superb.

Cons: Puzzles seem to always have one solution, and it’s too easy to become frustrated early.

Bottom Line: It's worth a try -- especially in informal contexts focused on problem solving -- but teachers trying to hit on core science content will need to look elsewhere.

It's tough to see Splice integrated into traditional science units given the lack of actual core content; however, it looks science-y and still tests students' brains and ways of thinking in productive ways that'd make it a good elective activity. Students who really get into it could be given a project to create a paper prototype of a game inspired by Splice that more accurately models science content.

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Splice is a gorgeous puzzle game set in a microscopic world. Players splice a microbe's cells into a set structure and within a set number of moves. It's less like match-three casual games such as Bejeweled and Candy Crush and more like level-based puzzle games with specific solutions, like Sokobond. Initially, playing Splice successfully is just a matter of clicking randomly. Eventually, however, patterns emerge that start to make sense, and players can plan out a string of actions and understand how play flows. Unfortunately, getting to that state may be an exercise in patience, and it’s possible to get frustrated before ever understanding Splice's patterns. Some players will undoubtedly really enjoy playing Splice through to the end levels, but it's just as likely that they'll give up quickly.

While Splice may at first appear like a game that is modeled after biology or chemistry, science is used more for style than substance. There's still learning, it's just more in tune with other puzzle games: Players learn through trial-and-error and incrementally improving their mental models of the game's systems; it's this process of learning that is powerful, not the actual content learned. As mentioned earlier, however, it's difficult to imagine a wide range of players sticking around for the long haul and deep learning with Splice.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

It's hard not to appreciate the game's beautiful design. Kids will quickly realize everything -- even the menus -- exists in a single microscopic world, with previous puzzles floating in a murky, blurred background.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Splice has a theme rooted in biology and delivers some fun puzzles, but it doesn't actually teach players anything about living cells other than that they can reproduce and transform.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

The rules can be very difficult to discern. There's a good chance gamers will end up solving many of the puzzles by pure luck after a lot of random clicks rather than through skill. Some tutorials would have been nice.

Common Sense Reviewer
Mark Chen Researcher

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