June 26, 2018

E3 2018: Hands on with Semblance

 Going to E3 is a lot like hitting up a major sporting event, the crowds are loud, the lights are bright and some of the best talent is on display, but one of the best things is leaving behind the big and flashy and heading for the smaller games, one of the ones that got me this year was Semblance.

Semblance is a puzzle platformer, each level contains multiple tokens to collect, which in return nets you the best score, it is a simple little mechanic to keep you replaying levels where you missed one or two, but it is the reason for playing that makes the game cooler. You play as Squish, who, as his name implies is squishy, in face the entire world is squishy and as it is made that way things can be modified. When you jump as Squish, if you hit a wall, he flattens out for a bit, something that made me chuckle each and every time that I did it, but it is when you power jump that things can get really crazy.

Power jumping takes a moment to charge up, but when you do it, rather than you being squished, you actually deform the terrain, meaning that your actions literally shape the world. If something you are trying to get, is a little to high, then just force the ledge below it, up higher and then you can get it. But it is not just a matter of raising a platform to get something, you will also need to do it, in order to create a safe space to land, in order to avoid deadly spikes and other hazards. But up is not the only direct you can go, if something is a little to high to reach, you can pound the ground and go lower, letting you go under hazards as well.

But simply going up or down is not all you can do, whilst you can raise the ground to make things safer for you, if enemies, or hazards, like the high powered lasers, are on the ground you are moving around, then you will change the direction, based on how you hit it. If you push the ground up, more to the left of the laser, it will start pointing more towards the right and so on, understanding where you need to point things, whilst deforming the world, is crucial to succeeding.

One aspect that I really enjoyed about the game, was that when I died, trying to complete some puzzles in the wrong way, lead to that result, the game did not waste time on screens or such, it just placed me right back into the action. Moving Squish is simple as well, he runs and jumps, but he can also do a small dash move in the air, letting you gain precious distance, which in turn helps keep you away from death a moment or two longer.

The visuals are also pretty great, they as quite minimalist, with a subdued colour palet, I did ask why those colours and the response was something I did not expect. When the game was being made, the team, of which there are only a few guys, spent the time building everything in code, as in all the art you see, is done via coding and they selected the colours then. When they got an artist on board, they decided to leave the colours as they were, because changing them would require a huge amount of work and the team could just not afford to do it.

The game offered a lot of charm, more so given the size of the main character and there were hints at what the game was going to present players upon release. I love seeing what smaller teams are able to achieve and thankfully BLAH seem up to the task, not bad for a couple of students from South Africa hey.

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