Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Review Context: I’m a big fan of puzzle games, especially puzzle games that try to create a new different kind of experience with new gameplay concepts and interactions.
Date of Playthrough: July 2018
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i3 CPU 540 @ 3.07GHz
RAM: 8 GB
Video Card: GeForce GTX 950 2GB GDDR5 ACX 2.0 SC+
Disclaimer: This review was based off of a review copy.
Semblance, developed by Nyamakop, is a platform puzzle game that is different than any other puzzle game I’ve played before. In Semblance, you play as a squishy, putty-looking character that has the power to change deformable terrain. When you start the game you are immediately dropped into a colorful game world, no story dialogue to start you off, as you begin to discover and transform the world around you.
The game’s level structure has you moving from one of several worlds of terrain to another, all with different characteristics and puzzle mechanics for you to discover. Within each world there are trees that you enter, and within those trees contain a certain number of puzzles that you are allowed to move freely in-between. In Semblance you are not required to beat all the puzzles in one tree in one shot, as you are allowed to return back to that tree, even if you completed one puzzle for you to return to later. Completion of a puzzle within a tree means that you’ve collected the sparkly item (colors vary per world) in a given puzzle.
What stands out about Semblance are the puzzles and its mechanics. What the game does really well is introducing puzzle mechanics, but not in a tutorial-like fashion with text and prompts. For example, the first puzzle in a tree may use a specific mechanic, followed by another puzzle within that same tree expanding upon that game mechanic. It is this approach to game design that is to be respected, as few games do this nowadays.
While playing Semblance you will use your squishy self to transform terrain, and sometimes yourself, in order to complete the puzzle. What this actually means is if there is a platform terrain that can be changed, you can jump below it to make it bend up or vice versa. For some terrain platforms you can use your special jump dash special dash ability to push them either horizontally or vertically, depending on the position. Not all the terrain can be changed and there are limitations. For example, with a small separated platform you can push it up, but you can’t also push it to the side. You have to choose one direction or action, and you can push that to the limit the game allows. If you make a mistake, don’t worry, there is a ‘reform’ button that resets a terrain area to default. These are all the basics of the game, but putting them together to complete a puzzle is the challenge. As you move through the game you will get to a point where you can squish yourself flat or squish yourself to make you needle thin. All elements of transformation will affect your movement and ability to jump.
Other elements of the game are enemies and obstacles. You will encounter moving enemies, but the enemies mostly just move around, and disappointingly, not a huge variation of them either. They are mostly used for puzzles involving movement timing. Obstacles include lasers that prevent you from using your character abilities, and also lock terrain from changing form. During the course of your playthrough your dexterity will tested, as some of the puzzles will require it.
The puzzles in Semblance are generally interesting and well thought out, but for some stretches of puzzles within certain trees some of the puzzles felt redundant side-by-side to one another. The game world of Semblance, while vibrant with beautiful coloring, feels bland going from puzzle to puzzle, but for a puzzle game like this, that’s passable. The overall hub world layout with trees that can be entered by moving across the different tree worlds, while admirable for it’s very open world atmosphere, feels like something is missing. As someone who completed some trees partially and went back later to complete the rest of puzzles, the game could use both a map and fast travel. Additionally, the game could also use some sort of identification of the specific trees, which could be useful for talking with other gamers who may be needing help in certain areas or keeping track of your own progress.
As mentioned in the beginning, the game doesn’t have a story narrative in text, but you can get a visualized story narrative as you complete puzzles. It isn’t all that special, but you wont be playing Semblance for the story anyway. If I described the game you’re most likely to think Play-Doh and Silly Putty. The visuals have a very plain colorful look, similarly to Play-Doh, that adds to the fun terrain transforming nature of playing the game. I can’t fathom how anyone could play this game without a controller and still have a fun time, so I highly recommend a controller. The soundtrack fits the game, but wont be a memorable part of your experience.
Semblance is an extremely unique puzzle experience that a puzzle gamer should appreciate, even if the experience is a bit short in the number of puzzles. That being said, completing of the puzzles still maintains a good level of satisfaction that is needed to have a successful puzzle game. Nyamakop shows us that the puzzle genre is continuously evolving, giving us a memorable experience that will be hard for any puzzle gamer to ignore. I would love to see some DLC full of more puzzles, or even a level editor in the future to create more puzzles. Semblance should be in every puzzle gamer’s library, and it’s one of the best games I’ve played in 2018.
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