Who doesn’t love playdough? What would a world made entirely out of playdough look like? If you have these questions, because I am sure we all do, look no further than Semblance. Semblance is a puzzle platformer where you control Squish, an extremely soft and of course squishy ball of something. You must smash, squash, and deform the world to solve puzzles and collect orbs of light. Why? Well because this beautiful playdoughy world has been infected with a plague of hard material that has started to spread. You, Squish, must fight back and collect the very essences of the world to bring it back to its soft playdoughy state.
Semblance is a puzzle platformer. So players will be using their mighty morphing powers to grab the glowing world essences in each level. Doing so will cure each world of its infection and bring soft squishy fun back to everyone. The fun begins when you have to smash and squish the world to help you solve the environmental puzzle to grab the orbs. Not all the of the world can be morphed, the infection manifests itself as sharp hard spikes that will destroy Squish as soon as it comes into contact with them. Squish will manipulate the environment to reach places high place, or make dents in the walls to walk up them like stairs. There are countless ways to solve a single puzzle and that is why it’s so much fun. There are limits to how much you can morph the world but have no fear if you overdo it and need to reset, a single button press will set the world back to its normal state. This button will become players best friend as they experiment to solve the puzzles.
The world of Semblance is split into three separate worlds. Each world has its own unique color palette and mechanics. These worlds are laid out in a nonlinear path, so if players are having a tough time on one puzzle, skip it and continue with the others. The puzzle difficulty does range, and I’d find myself staring at the screen for 10 minutes before making my initial moves at times. Semblance is extremely satisfying. The feeling of accomplishment is second to none and is executed near perfectly. The deeper players dive into Semblances’ rich world, the more difficult the puzzles become. This gameplay hook is just masterfully developed. The harder the game gets, the more sense of accomplishment players feel. It’s an endorphin rush to the max.
Semblance controls are tight and responsive for the most part. Very rarely did I feel like a death was the games fault, not mine. Sadly I did experience a small amount of slow down and lag. This never hit me during a complex puzzle, with lasers shooting and me dashing like a madman. No, it would hit when I would be changing screens from one puzzle to the next. This leads me to believe it’s more a loading issue, so it didn’t really affect my gameplay. Which is great, because Semblance nails its gameplay. The developers seemed to prioritize fun above all else, and it pays off.
The world of Semblance is beautiful. The minimalistic world is endearing. Like stated previously each world has its own color palette and aesthetic. Even going as far as to have different background music throughout each world. The game is two dimensional but gives the illusion of depth. With some creatures in the foreground blinking and watching as you squish on by. Trees and vines will swing and sway in the background as you try to jump for the 10th time to grab that world essence. In this simplicity lies the beauty of the game, or maybe I’m just a sucker for minimalistic art styles. Either way Semblance nails it.
Semblance is the poster child for a game that just works, the colors, character designs, environment all are here to serve the game. The whole aesthetic is just perfectly executed. The world building fits together like a puzzle, each piece supporting the one next to it. Semblance is an amazing look into the how developers can use the art style to help support the gameplay. Semblance is gorgeous.
The story of Semblance is there, you just have to look for it. Like a beautiful gem covered in…playdough, you have to scrub it clean to find the beauty that lies beneath. The story is told through environmental storytelling. Players will discover hidden totems or secret areas with paintings on the walls. This gave me Journey vibes, which is never a bad thing. There is no dialogue, the few cutscenes show you the action, and the tone is set by the beautiful music. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but Semblance just works.
The developers figured the formula out and pieced it all together perfectly. The story is never overly intrusive, nor is it an afterthought. It’s reminiscent of Shadow of the Colossus Or Dark Souls. The story is omnipresent, always lurking just in the recess of your mind. The game starts off simple enough. A brave guardian of the world gives its life to give a chance to fight back against the infection. Doing this creates Squish, and so begins the player’s journey through the world of Semblance. Akin to the art style, the storytelling is minimalist. You collect snippets of the story throughout your gameplay until you have the full picture. And what a beautiful picture it is.
Semblance is fun to play, and with each puzzle being able to be solved in different ways, it warrants another playthrough. Hidden story elements must be sought out, there are collectibles besides just the world essences that players can find. And again it’s just so dang fun to squish and squash your way through the game. I tore through Semblance in a matter of about 8-10 hours, but almost immediately I restarted.
Semblance is great to play in short bursts. I kept wanting to do “just one more level” and then I beat the game. The saves are spaced so you never lose a substantial amount of progress if you quit mid-level. And if you die during a puzzle you respawn instantly to try again. The game is easy to learn. The basics are simple, and it’s amazing to see all the different ways people can solve the puzzles. Semblance is a game I will go back to when I’m just looking for something fun to play. It’s a perfect blend of fun and fascinating.
Gameplay is king and it shows in this title. The game oozes fun and lightheartedness, but beneath that is a powerful story told through some of the best environmental storytelling I’ve seen since Gone Home or RiME. Semblance was made by a group of students as their final university project. But in my opinion, it should be taught to design classes for its expert execution. Semblance is a masterpiece.
Note: GameOctane Editor Jason Germino received a code for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for reviews is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience.
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+ Amazing gameplay, keeps you engaged for hours
+ Beautiful art style
+ Masterclass use of environmental storytelling
- Slight performance issues