Thanks to Good Shepard for the review code
Release Date: 07/24/2018
Another queue game that I took too long to get to, and another simplistic platformer. This one has a eye-catching look to it though, reminding me both of Rain World (another game up on the to-do list) and Runbow, oddly enough, due to the focus on colors and shapes without much in the way of defined outlines, yet still having plenty of detail and visual variety. The music and sound are as you’d expect from a game like this, being very ambient.
Semblance starts you off in a main hub, where you can toy around with your simple three button control scheme. One is your jump, one is your dash, and one is your reset, which causes your blobby blob to burst some kind of shockwave, reverting everything around him back to their original forms.
Once you go into the first level of your choosing, the puzzling action begins! Using your three skills, you have to mess around and manipulate the world and platforms around you to obtained colored orbs, which gradually help purify the stages from all the spiky, evil influence that contaminates them. This usually requires you to dash into platforms to mold and shape them in specific ways, either to help with a jump, block a hazard like a laser, pollution, death spike, or any other nasty obstacle, and use your brain to figure out the path to each orb. Stages have a varying amount of orbs, and you don’t even need to obtain them all to clear the stage, though you do in order to properly complete the world.
So, what happens if you get stuck, as can be common in so many of these puzzlers? Surprisingly, Semblance lets you figure out alternate paths and play the entire game at your own pace. While doing these stages in a linear order can and will teach you new mechanics the stages throw at you over time, (such as laser beams, crystal barriers, walls that squish your blob to be thinner or flatter, etc) you can honestly skip worlds and stages by thinking outside the box and figuring that out for yourself, making this a truly open puzzler that ends up being a whole lot more fun because of it, as you can pretty much make your own pathway.
Even then, I still found myself engrossed on some of these challenges, with the whole one more try sensation leading me to messing around to get a single orb for twenty minutes, and none of it really felt frustrating. In fact, when a seemingly impossible orb was obtained by me realizing you can smash the ground into a crater, then pushing a block down into that crater and using the extra space to make a platform for myself, that became an incredibly satisfying “A-ha!” moment, one which Semblance kept surprising me with plenty of times.
Even after I fully completed the first world, I didn’t hesitate to go around the other two in random order. Messing with a bit of stuff in one world, then dealing with icey mayhem in the other, Semblance is just pure pick up and play fun, and while it is incredibly simplistic and also in a genre filled with other games trying to be the next simple thing, this game stood out quite a bit more due to being more engaging, more fun, and just really thoughtful. You may even stumble upon stuff you had no idea about, such as weird statues hidden throughout the game, and finding those sort of secrets completely on accident, is always fun, and just helped to make this experience even more memorable.
In the end, Semblance was a great surprise, being a minimalist puzzle platformer that had plenty of refreshing variety to tinker around with, and being absolutely perfect for brief sessions. The three worlds will take you a couple of hours to fully complete, and my current sessions with Semblance on the Steam Deck were really engrossing, leaving this as a game I’m definitely going to come back to more and more until I eventually 100% it.
The one aspect that truly surprised me was the non linearity. Expecting this to be like a bajillion other puzzlers with a basic level select or linear sets of rooms, having the level and world select be controlled in the form of an ordinary level, and you being able to break the sequence by figuring out the solution to whatever is impeding your progress before the game teaches you naturally really leads to some brilliant eureka moments, and honestly made this a sleeper hit for me that I am deeply, deeply regretful I let slip into queue limbo for so long.
Nevertheless, even four years later, Semblance is a really good time, and the world-shaping gimmick is a whole ton of fun to mess around with. I only just wish it hadn’t taken me this long to finally get to shaping this delightful experience.
I give Semblance an 8 out of 10.