November 17, 2017

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Sim Cell by Touch Press | Touch and Go

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The latest endeavor by Touch Press, the developer of a number of immersive apps for adults and students, including Molecules and The Elements by Theodore Gray and Incredible Numbers by Professor Ian Stewart, is a subscription platform of games, with a new release nearly every month.  A recent addition to the platform is Sim Cell, reviewed here by Mary Ann Scheuer.

A screen from Sim Cell (Touch Press)

In Sim Cell (Touch Pr., Inc. iOS. Free to download, additional levels by subscription, $4.99 per month; Gr 8 Up), users explore molecular biology by navigating a “Nanobot” inside human and tree cells. Through dynamic, colorful 3-D illustrations, students are able to visualize the cell environments at a molecular level, learning the functions of different organelle as they try to solve a set of missions.

In the human cell, a virus is attacking a young patient. Viewers must control a miniscule robot injected directly into the one of the patient’s cells and train it to “fight off viruses.” While the game is engaging, it doesn’t offer information on how the virus is harming the patient. Text describes the mission and viewers navigate around the cell, scanning different organelle to gather information.

For example, viewers learn that “a lysosome is a virus-killer. It contains enzymes that dissolve viruses and unwanted cell parts.” In the first few missions, players enter the cell, find and tow a lysosome to destroy the virus and then enter the nucleus to destroy viral DNA. One of the cell’s mitochondrion has been severely damaged and must be repaired with proteins that the Nanobot helps create using mRNA retrieved from inside the nucleus. Once this mission has been completed, players use the mitochondrion to build ATP, which then can be fired into the Golgi apparatus to build more lysosomes to defend the cell against the viruses.

The game design has some limitations. Viewers return to the first level of the mission every time they open the app, and with no settings, it’s unclear how to control sound and narration options.

While many users will enjoy traveling through the 3-D cells, the complex molecular biology is not supported with enough context to help users understand what they are doing and why they are doing it. For example, how does “dashing” the viral DNA with the Picobot destroy it? There is no embedded or online information to extend or support the game. On the other hand, students taking an advanced biology class might find this an interesting exercise in visualizing and/or educational gaming. VERDICT Background knowledge is a prerequisite for this game that explores concepts in molecular biology.– Mary Ann Scheuer, Berkeley Unified School District, Great Kid Books 

For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.

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Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

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