Semblance takes place across 3 vibrant lands; The peaceful worlds are under attack by a crystalline infection and your role as squish, a cute blob made by the land itself for its defense is to break the plague’s dour grip and free the world’s life essences, uncovering the cause behind it along the way. The story is told through images as you explore the worlds; Many may miss or choose to ignore the story – it’s not in your face and you can take it or leave it as you progress.
Interestingly Nyamakop, the South African development team behind the game are bringing it to PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch at the same time – it’s a positive sign to see the Switch being the primary console of choice for an Indie developer.
Semblance is a platformer in which you control a blob similar to that of The End Is Nigh or Super Meat Boy. Where it differs is its unique Play-Dough world that turns the idea of platformers on their heads. Much of the world, denoted by lighter shaded parts of the ground or platforms can be deformed by jumping or stomping on it. It starts simply – you will have spikes in the way with the ground underneath being squashable in order to pass underneath or a big jump that cannot be made until you push a platform higher, giving you the much needed height.
The learning curve is steady and you can skip any particularly tricky parts and tackle them later. You come across trees which lead to a level that is infected, within each level there are a number of orbs and collecting them rids that level and its host tree of the vile infection. Its a nice way to break up the game; Each level will take you on average 10-20 minutes which turns out to be a good amount of time for a short burst on the move and tackling 4 or 5 equates to a nice sit down session.
As you progress further, additional complexity is thrown in with innovative and novel deforming being required to progress. Often times you will need to time your jumps and squashes well in order to pass a moving target or create multiple, complex platforms for yourself in order to progress.
Just as you get the hang of this as you reach the second and third levels, the world interacts with you differently. The infected landing in one world is so hard that trying to deform it actually squashes you! You can squeeze squishy making them slimmer and in this mode you can jump higher but travel from side to side less – similarly you can squash yourself the other way and make some long dashes from side to side. Combining this self changing and deforming the world around you adds a welcome layer of gameplay. Some of the puzzles have you scratching your head for a fair amount of time or number of tries to figure it out.
Another little mechanic are the barriers that make things move back to their original state when touched which at times is used to transform the land mid-progress to get through and at others is something to be avoided. We have lasers that need to be positioned out of a dangerous path and breakable crystal, as well – there are enough variables thrown in to stop you from getting bored or finding the gameplay too repetitive.
Squishy is easy to control. You move with the left stick and Jump using B. Once in the Air Y (or ZR) is used to jump further, slam or slide – this powerful move is what is used to deform the parts of land that can be reshaped and A is used as a short range reset for when you inevitably need to reshape platforms.
The game’s 3 worlds offer excellent variety and each puzzle is fun to get past. There are a few frustrating moments but the difficulty is not on par with intentionally head banging death traps like Super Meat Boy. It ends up playing out more like World of Goo in terms of difficulty, which is a happy middle ground. When you do die, usually by hitting some of the crystal infection, you are taken back to the current puzzle rather than having to start the whole level again.
Semblance features a hypnotic, dynamically layered score with hints of African aural distinction. The tracks are ambient backing for your journey and never become boring. The sound effects are predominately squishes and squelches and work well with the simplistic art-style and laid back gameplay.
Visuals & Performance
The visuals are beautifully minimalistic. reminding me a little of Burly Men at Sea. The world you inhabit is malleable and as a result draws you in. The colour palette is vibrant and striking, particularly the hard substance of the infection which forms awesome shards and glass like pieces.
Whilst simple, the small details are good from subtle parallax skycape backgrounds to the little critters dotted around the place. The use of light and dark is effective, adding to the overall feeling of the worlds and the toned down foreground adds further depth to the scenes making the world feel fully fleshed out.
In terms of performance I experienced no issues. In handheld mode the game runs very well also – we don’t have touchscreen available but I think that makes sense, given the move-set available to us. I don’t think they would translate well to touch. That said, playing on the move is awesome; I enjoyed it just as much as when docked.
Semblance is an accomplished game with 3 worlds to explore and a number of secrets and collectibles to keep you entertained. Past this, there is nothing to make you revisit the game but at $9.99 it’s a fair price to pay for an innovative and interesting platformer.
Unique and full of character