Only last week my wife was watching me play another game and she asked ‘why is it always shooting’? Sadly I knew exactly what she meant, then I fired up my Concrete Genie review code and we both got lost for a few hours.
First party developers Pixelopus have created something new and unique, a game that drips with charm and subtlety. It is fair to say although short by some standards Concrete Genie is a beautiful experience that lifts your spirit.
The Concrete Genie set-up
The narrative follows Ash, a creative youngster who hangs around his old town Denska. An imaginative little fishing enclave that has been all but abandoned by its citizens. Denska has been overrun by a Darkness, becoming a lifeless shell inhabited only by five wayward kids.
These kids are Ash’s antagonists, The Bullies, while never at mortal risk from them you will temporarily lose your magical paintbrush if they catch you. Fortunately Ash is a dab hand at clambering around the rooftops of Denska and can easily out manoeuvre them.
The brush is mightier
At the outset, Ash meets and befriends the magical creature Luna. From this moment your creativity shines, Luna imbibes your magical paintbrush. So begins the quest to bring life back to Denska. It is clear from mere moments with the art tools, that as you progress and collect more options there is plenty of scope to create some beautiful things.
Painting controls are motion activated via the Dualshock and easier to use than Dreams. The magical paintings that you can spray onto vertical surfaces are quite stunning. Stencils that you choose from your menu, that can stretch and grow, each one subtly animated. It doesn’t take long to start getting an eclectic hippy vibe going. Then there are the Genies.
Genius Concrete Genie
The Genies are wonderful, clever turns of programming and so full of character. Find a chalk drawing of a Genie on the floor and Luna will show you how to get it alive on the wall. Basically choose a body template, then embellish it with ears, horns, tails etc from your art pages you have collected. This results in Genies being unique and personal to you.
Once they are free they will run around walls that are available to them where you can interact with them such as giving then a tickle. Genies will also request you to paint them something, when you do they can fill up your Super Paint meter. Super Paint is your only option to clear walls tainted by the Darkness.
The Genies also come in elemental flavours, which aid you in other ways. These are essential to solving some of the puzzles around Denska, not too taxing, but pleasant all the same. Still, its the way these quirky cartoons slide around the town that makes them come alive.
The game is a well rounded package, the studio’s art style is beautiful on many levels. Structurally the town is a joy to explore. Not huge by today’s standards, but big enough for the job in hand. Animated neon murals just beg to be painted, and once you’ve started layering them on the wall masterpieces naturally come to life.
The character models are well worth a nod, I love, absolutely love the way they are animated. Reminiscent of old stop motion cartoons, you could be watching something physical, not a digital puppet. Another thing that shouldn’t be taken for granted is the dynamic camera work, hats off to the art direction.
The sound does its job and the world is full of nice details, like the cats you can pet and the scattered newspapers than tell the story of Denska.
Denska is peppered with logic puzzles and places where you need to ensure the right Genie helps you. It is enough to keep you or a younger gamer entertained, and absolutely adds to the experience.
Out of the Bottle
Concrete Genie is an experience that will stick with you, in comparison to stock standard releases it’s a brave new game. If you are not poking around nooks and crannies chasing down murals or loose pages. Then you will no doubt motor through the story, which deals with the kids relationships and their predicament.
However things change up in the third act, for students of the trailer it won’t be a surprise. Although when you are so enamoured with the game’s base mechanics this change of pace becomes a wrench. Moving away from the artistic vibe I had enjoyed so much, I found myself engaging in button mashing boss fights. Not the end of the world, but it was dragging me away from the core experience that had been so refreshing.
That said it wrapped the story as best it could, and apart from some niggly camera work I got there. Even with my general and documented disdain of Boss encounters.
What about PSVR?
Concrete Genie has been mooted as having VR for a while and while its not offering core gameplay, it is a great extension to the game. Slipping on the headset you will find yourself in a room with Splotch, the character that lives on your backpack. From there go through the motions of painting with the Move controllers. Which is very familiar.
Once that is done, Splotch instructs you to create a scene in Crystal Meadow to use all the items on your pallette. This is an atmospheric diversion, a nice to have and full of depth and colour. Being a 3d representation of the game, this section is out on its own. Once completed you will have access to more familiar in-game scenes where you can paint the walls with living art. You can include Genies too, the results are often mesmerising.
Does Concrete Genie have legs?
Yes, the narrative is short, but it should be an essential title to play given the vibe and implementation of the painting. It really is a special game, borrowing perhaps from other titles for some of its parts, but every player will end up with their own unique stamp on Denska and that is saying something. Of course the essential Photo Mode will be popular too, especially with its live replay feature.
On a personal note, I’d say Pixelopus have delivered my strongest game of the year contender. So much so, I’ve even ordered the gorgeous looking art book from Amazon, (see here) to have a permanent reminder of the game’s magic. I really hope this is not the last we see of Ash and the Genies.