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Game Info:

Semblance
Developed by: Nyamakop
Published by: Good Shepherd Entertainment; Gambitious
Genre: Adventure, Puzzle, Platformer
Release Date: July 24 2018
Available on: Switch, Windows, MacOs
Number of Players: Single Player
Rating: E for Everyone
Price: $9.99
(Humble Store Link)

Thank you to Good Shepherd Entertainment for the review copy!

Quite often, the greatest innovations come from the smallest of companies. New ideas have always been key to success in the video game industry, where everyone always desires something new. The first game from a South African studio to arrive on the Switch, Semblance, looks to keep up this track record. It takes the idea of platforming literally, with the main action of the game being the formation of platforms. Will this create steady ground for the company, or will it simply miss its jump?

Semblance is a game focused on the manipulation of platforms to solve puzzles. The story is very abstract, resulting in it being as malleable as the world it is set in. A crystal menace is taking over, corrupting the soft, flexible world you live in. You play as an unnamed blob, who has the ability to manipulate the terrain that he is on, in combination with his flexible body. He sets out to save the world, collecting orbs and restoring the balance of nature. Once again, there isn’t much to say about the story, as it is rather basic. If this was a design choice, it was quite subtle, yet clever. There are other parts of the story told throughout the levels, though nothing groundbreaking is revealed. While the story is cliché, it’s not the reason one should have purchased Semblance in the first place, so it’s forgivable. If one bought Semblance, they bought it for its unique gameplay.

Semblance
Highlights:

Strong Points: Great visual style; lovely music; clever gameplay
Weak Points: Occasional glitch left me stuck in a wall
Moral Warnings: Minor violence, potentially disturbing plot points

Semblance is a platformer, though I could never figure out if it should be classified as puzzle or action. It certainly blends a bit of both to create a unique experience. Hazards are dotted throughout the levels, which require skill to dodge and advance past. However, it’s nothing compared to “twitch” platformers, such as Super Meat Boy or Slime-san. In place of difficult platforming is the puzzle system of Semblance.

In Semblance, most floors and walls have the same color. This indicates that the material can be modified through the protagonist’s powers. The blob can force floors to rise or depress, leading to many possibilities for puzzles. Later on, the blob can also flatten itself like a Frisbee, opening up many new paths. These abilities felt like Semblance‘s main progression system, as each area gradually became much more complex. The real challenge of Semblance occurred within these puzzles. While few puzzles left me stumped for too long, many puzzles often required a plethora of failures in order to find a relatively simple solution. Of course, some puzzles could be solved in multiple ways, but it seems like there is always an intended method. Immense satisfaction was always felt immediately after clearing these puzzles. I enjoyed the majority of the puzzles, simply because the idea behind them is so flexible (literally). The game was never too punishing for mistakes, so I am encouraged to always try again. Despite introducing new concepts, all the puzzles always felt like they still were made with a simple premise in mind: reshape the world. Sure, the blob can become flat or slender, but even the puzzles that use these features always focus on how players change the landscape. By always remembering the main idea, Semblance‘s puzzles managed to be creative, unique, enjoyable, and never convoluted.

I love Semblance‘s gameplay. I feel that it never lost sight of the original concept of molding the world to win. I feel that many great games forget what made them great, instead focusing on extra fluff. While this works well in many cases, it leaves some dissatisfied with the experience. Semblance made it clear what the focus was, and stuck to it. In a sequel, I would love to see new manipulations, but still continue the idea of no new powers for the blob. Right now, I feel the difficulty curve was mostly done right, with only a few grievances here and there. This made Semblance much more fun to play than some other puzzle/action platformers, which had difficulty spikes, then stagnated. I feel that Semblance‘s gameplay had just the right difficulty, while always maintaining the original focus very well. For that reason, I love it.

Semblance
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 88%
Gameplay - 18/20
Graphics - 9/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 96%
Violence - 9/10
Language - 10/10
Sexual Content - 10/10
Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

Semblance‘s soundtrack and artistic choices are quite interesting. I’ll admit, at first, the simplistic style was off-putting. I assumed it would get boring extremely quickly, and would become an eyesore to play. Luckily, Semblance‘s team never intended for this in the first place, and gradually change the look of the game as the player progresses. Each world has very different background music and imagery, which is quite enjoyable to look at. Both the soft natural world and the dangerous crystalline lands are simply gorgeous, and I’m glad I didn't dismiss Semblance originally. Semblance‘s soundtrack and art style are quite fitting and well made, even if the first impression didn’t convey that.

From a moral viewpoint, Semblance is very safe, as is expected from platformers of its nature. The minor violence in the game is neither graphic nor emphasized, so it's as safe as a Mario Brothers game. There isn't a trace of language or sexual content included. Some may be unsettled by the idea of a crystalline plague devouring the gelatinous world, but I personally didn't find much wrong with it. Semblance has a bit of an abstract storytelling style, which helped it stay morally straight throughout the entire game.

Semblance is quite a pleasant surprise. The gameplay is definitely the highlight of the experience, being properly balanced, innovative, and simply fun. The simple concept of molding the levels turns out to be a flexible one, leading to many fun experiences. The game also sounds and looks great, using a style that grew on me as I played. There are other platformers I would recommend over it, but if you are tired of traditional platformers, Semblance may be just for you.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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