In a genre that's flooded with games, it must be difficult to make one that stands out. Thankfully, Semblance's distinct mechanics and eerie yet minimalistic world might just have what it takes.
Semblance begins with a series of strange scenes. There is no onscreen text or context whatsoever so it's up to the player to figure out just what the heck is going on. From what I gathered, some sort of presumably evil entity is making the protagonist's soft world hard. So, it's up to you to control this hero in order to make the land soft again and possibly put an end to the hard invaders. Although this all sounds rather abstract, I was impressed by how the developers crafted Semblance's world as it makes you feel uneasy at every step. The combination of simplistic visuals that have beings subtly lurking in the backgrounds and foregrounds and intensely creepy audio that sounds like it's ripped straight from an atmospheric horror game is nothing short of impressive. My hat is off to whoever composed the music and created the multilayered stages. It's truly captivating stuff.
You know a game is visually and aurally impressive when I discus those aspects before I get to the gameplay but I think it's time that I do. Basically, you glide around as a blob that can jump, dash in mid-air, and emit an aura that resets its surroundings. These commands seem simplistic but where things get interesting is in Semblance's stage design. When you dash into soft surfaces, they morph which allows you to ascend to heights that you couldn't reach before, scale walls by denting recesses in them, and dig trenches to avoid enemies. By tapping a button, you can reset all of the onscreen alterations which is very handy, especially if you made a mistake. A few mechanics get introduced as you progress such as lasers that automatically reset all morphed surfaces and the ability to flatten yourself so you can jump higher, etc. Overall, these mechanics add up to a rewarding and clever puzzle platform gameplay dynamic.
One area where Semblance excels in is providing an open-ended campaign that essentially allows you to tackle whichever stage you want at any time. Each stage tasks you with finding all of its glowing orbs which basically help turn the world back to its original softness. Therefore, it's awesome that you can almost master a stage and instead of getting frustrated that you didn't find everything, you can then move on to an entirely new stage and try to master that one. I wish every developer crafted their campaigns like this because it inspires creativity on the player's behalf and doesn't restrict them to having to master each stage before they can progress.
Even though Semblance sounds like a phenomenal game so far (don't get me wrong, it's very good), it does have its fair share of downsides. For starters, it's not a very long game and can easily be completed within a couple of hours. Also, there aren't any incentives to keep playing after you find everything. The lack of challenges basically renders Semblance a one-time playthrough kind of game which is unfortunate because I would have loved to hang around in its captivating world after I completed the core experience.
Finally, the puzzles featured in Semblance are indeed clever and satisfying but after you become accustomed to their general mechanics (which will happen sooner than you'd expect), things start to feel a bit too easy and predictable. I wish the developers threw more curveballs at the player because as it is, it's a pretty easy game to complete even if you're not a fan of the genre.
Semblance's haunting atmosphere and clever gameplay mechanics make it a memorable and satisfying puzzle platformer. However, once you're done with it, you'll wish that there was a lot more to experience.
- + Rewarding puzzle platform gameplay with a very cool stage-altering mechanic
- + Superbly creepy atmosphere and music
- + Welcome open-ended campaign structure
- - Puzzles become straightforward after you learn their general mechanics
- - Campaign is fairly short
- - Virtually no replay value