Pixelopus is back on PS4 with another artistic venture after their debut title, Entwined, showcased some fantastic visuals with rudimentary gameplay. Concrete Genie immediately shows the five years of development has led to the developers taking those beautiful flourishes to a much more well rounded experience to play, along with a more overt story which is told along the way.
The small fishing port of Denska was abandoned after an oil tanker accident, with its residents slowly leaving it behind for the mainland as the black darkness began to spread through the town Ash remembered full of life. Throughout the game you won’t see any adults or guardians, only 6 children embracing Denska as an outlet for their young unattended minds, for better or worse. When Ash has another run in with the delinquent kids who spend their time at Denska his prized artbook ends up broken, with the pages scattered to the winds and Ash stuck at a haunted Lighthouse. As Ash’s art suggests, rather than wallow in the darkness like the others he uses his abilities and those around him to bring a bright spark to the world.
The vast majority of your time with Ash will be spent painting your way through Denska, bringing the lights back to life and kicking the darkness down the street as you go. This is aided by genies that can be painted when you find certain stencils on the ground, each will look however you like with tons of custom ears, horns, hats and the like as you collect more lost art pages. The 3 types of genie have an ability focused on helping you solve some simple puzzles here and there, while also playing into the finale quite smartly. It’s absolutely a joy to trot down the street throwing up stars and butterflies while a cackling genie runs behind on the wall, even at the other end of town you will still feel compelled to bring up your artbook and find something interesting to slather on the bland bricks where you stand. Painting is done using motion controls with your Dualshock or can be swapped to the right stick if you are more traditionalist, both function well and never get in the way of your creativity.
Along with painting up a storm, Ash is quite nimble and you will find yourself climbing and jumping across the many rooftops of Denska, especially on the rare occasion you need to avoid the bully’s. If caught by the group of delinquents you need to distract them long enough to take back your brush and thankfully isn’t much of a concern or struggle. Ascending to the roof tops is great for finding more pages for your artbook, unlocking more cute options for your genies and finding billboards where you can recreate the original art in your new style. There are also small stencils of genies here and there on walls which can unlock concept art if you follow the request of a nearby genie you ask to take a look at the stencil. All of your painting is left up for display, once the story has been told you can return to Denska and take your time finding all the collectibles and just filling out your masterpiece at your own pace.
Towards the end of the game some basic combat is introduced and make up the bulk of the finale, an odd change of pace from a game that was all puzzle based up to that moment but thankfully it makes thematic sense and isn’t frantic enough to deter people who were enjoying the more relaxed nature of the game. If you find the combat not to your taste you can also dial down the difficulty to help get through to the end of the story and back to just painting. Due to how short the combat sections are it would have been nice to see an ‘arena’ style mode to play around with as the gameplay is actually quite clever, some more difficult DLC incorporating all the gameplay styles would be fantastic to see down the line as it would be a shame to see this unique combination go to waste. You will be spending a solid 5 hours to reach the end of the story, with another hour or two tracking down final pages and painting spots, along with a PSVR mode available.
Seeing the game in motion is like a dream, paint effects are bold and Denska in general, even before being revitalized, is delightfully detailed. Animations and the character models evoke some Laika comparisons and the design of the genies really standout.
Early on you unlock a free paint mode where you can start a fresh Denska canvas from scratch, as well as a separate PSVR experience which is a nice little taste of painting in VR. It takes place under the lighthouse with a little Splotch guiding you through the standard painting process seen elsewhere in the game. Once the basics are completed you are both wisked away to a fully 3D VR meadow to paint in a 3D environment, with objects that interact with each other in interesting way such as blowing gusts of wind through pipes to create music or flowers that blossom with stardust. While this experience shows a completely unique way to use the paintings from Ash’s journey though Denska it, like most PSVR experiences, is over way too quickly with about half an hour to finish Splotch’s requests.
You also have zero movement options as everything is completed in a stationary position which is disappointing considering the fully 3D meadow. All the systems are clearly in place, hopefully we see another series of requests downloadable in the future as the possibilities to tell fun stories using the painted objects are almost endless. A complete lack of VR options aside from a free paint mode, along with forcing the use of 2 Move Controllers also point towards a rushed addition to the game.
Ash’s story of trying to find comfort in a place left abandoned is full of growth without worrying about hitting you over the head with details, leaving it up the art to inspire.
THE PLAYSTATION 4 VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON A PLAYSTATION 4 PRO FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
Concrete Genie paints an impressive picture with delightful gameplay and heart warming characters. it's a great way to spend a few hours unleashing your creativity.
Delightful characters and genies
Fun gameplay and puzzles at a relaxed pace
Change in gameplay style toward the end may alienate some