Thanks to the indie scene we have had a lot of unique and quirky games pop up, and one genre that has been flooded has been puzzle games. This would appear to be due to their relatively simple gameplay requirements, but it does mean they need to pin their appeal on something truly creative, such as Figment’s art style, or in the case of Semblance, with a unique mechanic.
The unique mechanic that I mentioned is the ability to manipulate walls and platforms by slamming into them. This may not sound that outlandish, after all you have been able to move platforms in plenty of games, but this one is far more than that. Rather than the platform moving up, the point you slam into moves up, so for instance you could hit the right-hand side of a platform repeatedly, and you will wind up with a ramp.
This mechanic makes for some truly interesting puzzles, so for instance when you need to hit a point over a large pit with deathly crystals on both sides. Instead of trying to do some magical wall platforming to prevent your death, you wind up going under the platform, slamming yourself a small platform between the crystals to land on and voilà.
The environment manipulation is at its best when you need to scale walls. Jumping and slamming into the wall will create a little dent for you to sit in, jumping and doing so again will eventually give you the ability to climb all the way up a wall. This is not always that easy though, thanks to the games use of enemies.
There are some ways to die other than piles of crystals on the floor, moving crystals, or lasers, but they are a large part of the puzzle itself. Manipulating a platform with lasers on it can result in them pointed towards each other, cancelling each other out, and giving you space to pass. These can be super clever or as simple as you need to make a dent in the ground to hide in as moving crystals soar over top.
The manipulation mechanic could easily have become a glorified platforming mechanic, but instead it is restricted to a puzzle style thanks to three factors. The first is you can only manipulate some surfaces, of which there is only enough to beat the puzzle, and puzzle restrictions. The second restriction is that once you start to manipulate a platform, the rest of it can only be manipulated the same way, so for instance if you dent it from the left, you can’t then jump up the other side and bend it from the right. This initially felt like a hindrance, but you quickly realise it is an important part of the puzzles designs. The third is a beam that appears in some levels that if the platform hits it, it returns to its initial spot. So sometimes you can only bend a platform so far and pushing it one to many times puts you back to square one.
Later puzzles allow you to manipulate your characters shape by slamming into crystal walls. Doing so can make your character flat or tall, changing where you can fit and how you can jump. This adds a new frustrating layer to make puzzles that little bit cleverer and lot more frustrating after you got the hang of how puzzles worked before.
You may be wondering why I haven’t touched on the story, and that’s because there isn’t too much to it. You are a little blob with eyes, who needs to collect orbs to save the forest from a poison that makes these enemy crystals. You climb into trees which have several orbs, getting all of them saves that tree. Its plot and its simple art style allow the star of the game to shine, its environmental puzzles.
Semblance takes a little while to get going as early puzzles involve unnecessary platforming, as it introduces you to its mechanics, but once you get past its slow start the true gem in this forest shines bright. It’s a clever and unique puzzle game that hides easy solutions in plain sight, making it brilliantly frustrating when you finally spot it after 20 minutes, making it the perfect puzzle game for someone wanting something a little different.
Blair received a code for Semblance for review