Platformers are usually full of thick and fast challenges that push on you to pick up the pace or dodge another bullet, but every so often it’s nice to find one that slows things down for a moment and lets you take your time with things. Semblance sets the stage with puzzles that rely on twisting and warping malleable environments made of squishy primordial platforms, with a charming art style and solid game mechanics that give you the feeling of experimentation instead of finding solutions through trial and error.
Postmodern take on an old standard
Semblance is the first game for Switch from South African studio Nyamakop who describe the game as a ‘postmodern riff’ on the platforming genre. Playing as a cute little blob with eyes, you seek to collect a series of orbs to bring your world back from the brink of being crystallised by a race of opposing cutesy creatures. The story is told with no dialogue, mostly shown in the background with artefacts and cave paintings depicting the conflict between light and dark factions of the game. It appears to be a ‘good vs evil’ story on the surface but there are many little details that imply that things are not what they seem.
The cartoonish graphics run at a high and stable framerate, echoing the slick presentation of games like Locoroco and Hohokum yet with its own distinct way of doing things. A minimalist colour scheme makes the game pop while serving the needs to playability. Puzzles focus on changing the structure of platforms by squishing and stretching them out, climbing up walls and bypassing laser systems with your intuition. The game lets you explore other areas, so if you’re stuck on something you can come back to it later, but there’s not much hand holding throughout the game.
Unlocking doors and collecting tokens are the rewards you receive at the end of each puzzle, but the accomplishment is in figuring out how to get past the puzzle in the first place. It’s innovative in how it makes you think about solving puzzles. The answer isn’t always clear even though all the parts are sitting right in front of you. For some of the toughest challenges I had to go take a walk and play it through in my head to see what I was missing, which made it pretty satisfying to come back and crush it later. The combination of physics and battering the platforms with your squishy body sounds frustrating and complex, but for the most part it has a flow and rhythm that comes to feel natural as you bounce through the later levels.
System reviewed on: Nintendo Switch.
Disclaimer: A review code for Semblance was provided by Sandbox Strat.