July 25, 2018

Semblance - Review

Semblance was a game that caught my eye, the moment I saw it, with its distinct visuals, but getting a chance to play it at E3, teased just how much the game offers from a gameplay perspective, but is that enough for a full game.

Semblance tells the story of the world, where everything is squishy, the citizens, the land, everything really and somehow, a crystal substance comes in and starts to harden everything, causing issues for the denizens. The world itself creates Squish, the character that you control and then, well that’s it, the game does not attempt to explain anything else, there are a host of cave drawings that you can find, but they are not all on mandatory paths, so you might miss one or two. As you play and find these stories, the world begins to feel more alive and the story starts to click into place, but as its all up to your own interpretation, you might come up with something that the developers never intended.

Thankfully, the gameplay is great, Squish has two abilities really, jumping and dashing and it is combining them that helps you progress and you use them together, to deform the world when needed. Should a platform not be high enough for you to reach the next step, you can dash into it from the bottom and it will start to grow taller, then you can reach it. Should a gap be to large, some platforms can be pushed to the side, making the gap smaller, it sounds like a simple concept, but there are some rules that you have to adhere to, in order to get things to work for you. You can only deform the dark purple, light purple, pink or green based land are not modifiable, if though, you make a change to the platform, you can’t them push it to the side, or if you have moved it, you can’t then reshape it, so you need to think about the whole process.

As you progress through the game though, more and more obstacles will be added, early on you get some gates you need to open by collecting an orb, but pretty soon you need to deal with lasers. These lasers are green and by this point you should know that all green is instant death, so if you touch a laser, you die and need to retry, thankfully the game will respawn you right away on the same screen, with the work you did remaining. There are also large collections of green crystals that you will discover that can be tricky to avoid at times, but the lasers are the most dangerous, because if they are on ground that can be reshaped, you can change where they aim and cause yourself no end of headaches. In addition, the game will also throw up a haze, for lack of a better description, which when you enter it, removes your ability to dash, which means no reshaping the world until you leave it.

The biggest problem with Semblance though, is the total lack of direction or context, I love exploring as much as the next person, but there is only so much you can do without direction. The story is a prime example, there was a little firefly bug floating up towards the top of the screen at one point, but if I ignored it, I would not have discovered another series of wall paintings. By that same token, the game has no hints or help, should you get stuck in either solving a puzzle, or trying to wonder where to go next; So, I hope the developers are thinking of adding something in. The worst problem that I faced though, was that in the third world, the game requires you to reshape yourself, a simple enough task, the problem was that I reverted a platform back and with my taller shape, I was unable to get back through and as the other side required me to be smaller to get through. The game does allow you to reset Squish, should you get stuck, but that will only reset you back away from the obstacle that holds you, meaning in my instance, as I was free to roam, I just got placed back at the start of the screen, and no matter what I tried, I could not proceed and ended up stopping the game here, because of it.

One thing I do really like about the game, is the visuals, they are so simple and yet so charming, it boggles the mind, the basics of it all, work for the games advantage. Each of the worlds has a base colour, purple for the first, then green and so on, each colour has a number of shades, that they use, meaning you will see a lot of colours for it. Squish also becomes the same primary shade of the colour, so in the first world, he is a dark purple, then a dark green colour and so on, whilst visually he looks great, there were a few times that I wanted him to move in a direction, it would take me a moment to actually find him on the screen. The elements that stop you from exploring, the haze and other parts are always contrasting colours, so they stand out in amongst the sea of a shades that the other provides.

From an audio point of view, the game is quite basic, the soundtrack is quite minimalist and matches with the visuals very well, but no single track stood out to me, even now as I write this, I am having an issue attempting to recall any of the melodies. The sound effects are more of the same, a light whoosh noise is played when you dash, sticking to walls, or bashing into them grants you a very odd, yet satisfying noise, thanks to the worlds squishy nature.

Semblance is a great puzzle game, some of them will seem easy but require a fair amount of thought, in order to solve. While the world is mostly deformable, trying to work out the best way to work it in your favour, is where the real challenge comes from. Sadly, a broken puzzle means that the game is broken and I hope that it is something the developers fix soon.

Review code supplied by Good Shepherd

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