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Review : Semblance

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Not only is this the first impression of Nyamakop as a game development studio to the world, it’s the first South African video game on a Nintendo platform ever. Semblance is an impressive debut game from South African game development studio Nyamakop, and it left me eager for their next project.

Despite being a new IP from a new company, there was a decent amount of expectation regarding Semblance upon release. Attention was brought to the title at E3 2017 with Nyamakop promising a “2D platformer where the player can deform parts of the platforms, which are made out of play dough”. The idea and art style immediately captivated the public back then, with Game Informer going so far to name it one of the ‘best indie games’ of the whole showcase. Fans who remember seeing it on display will be pleased to learn that Semblance creates exactly what all indie puzzle platformers aspire to create: a fun, vibrant world made intelligently.

Fans of the puzzle-platformer genre will likely make comparisons between Semblance and the indie roguelite Noita, which also offers players the ability to deform the environment in its own unique way, but despite similarities in ambition Semblance looks and feels different enough to all other platformers on the market in the way it handles.

Focussing on presentation, it is no exaggeration to say that every single image in this game looks like something I’d want as a wallpaper, both on desktop and the actual walls of my house. A lot of work, love and care was clearly put into this department, with the simple-yet-crisp design of everything from the landscape to the characters is both eye-popping and intuitive. The gorgeous animated design is complimented through Semblance’s use of sound effects to give life to the characters, although the passable audio atmosphere is not necessarily a must-have to enjoy the game.

I could say the same about the story Semblance tries to tell. The gist is that through a disaster, Squish has to save his world of softness from an invasion of hardness. You don’t have to pay attention to the story to appreciate the game, though it is done well and charmingly told through the use of ruins, environmental change, and small excerpts from supporting characters. This all seems a means to an end though, and the reason I say it’s relatively unimportant is because the big delight in this game is the gameplay itself.

Semblance is simple in its fundamentals, to solve all the problems you’ve just got to collect all of the circles by solving environmental puzzles. Squish is easy to control, with only three buttons being used outside of the D-Pad allowing the player to jump, dash, and use a special action to revert the environment to its pre-altered stated. The real progress in the game concerns how Squish is able to work with the environment, with new scenarios and possibilities being present virtually every level, and new mechanics introduced each chapter. Semblance’s gradual release of new environments and capabilities allows players to constantly learn without being overawed, and the pacing should be commended. I felt this was particularly strong in later levels of the game where you could start deforming Squish itself to solve puzzles with the use of hard sections of the environment. Although many levels required precision and I did find myself frustrated frequently, say once ever 40 minutes or so, there was always an answer I could figure out and none of the levels felt per se broken. That being said, some moments of frustration did arise out of infrequent glitches that got in the way of completing puzzles, with controls occasionally lacking consistency and the Squish getting stuck in walls or platforms. In a mentally stimulating game that requires precision and complicated problem solving, these glitches definitely hurt the flow.

I actually found myself getting a little exhausted while playing Semblance due to the fact that the goal of collecting the circles never changes, and whether I was by myself or with friends, I could only play for periods of at most 90 minutes at a time before the thought process would become “it’s time for something else”. For this reason, I firmly believe that the best place for this game to be released would be in the realm of Mobile Gaming on IOS and Android. The controls and graphics are simple enough to work on mobile devices, and being able to solve these puzzled on-the-go in the pockets of gamers may well be where this game is received best.

For a price of around $15 on Windows, OS X and the Nintendo Switch, Semblance is worth picking up upon release as a fun puzzle platformer that won’t let you down.

Pros:

Eye-catching art style

Clever pacing

Satisfying puzzle design

Cons:

Repetitive objectives

Occasionally glitchy

 

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