I first saw Semblance, and met developers Ben and Sugar, back in 2017, and it’s been a long wait to finally get a chance to play the game in its full form. Built on an innovative and inventive mechanic that began as a bug, Semblance is something unique; a platformer in the truest sense of the word.
Semblance is a puzzle platformer where your character and the world it inhabits is made of playdough. Squish, squash and deform your character and the world to solve puzzles in Semblance’s soft, bouncy world.
Semblance asks, what if you could deform and reshape the world itself? It’s a game that takes the idea of a ‘platform’ in a platformer and turns it on it’s head.
Semblance builds itself on the foundation of a super cool idea: What if you could mold and squish the world around you in a classic platformer? This all started as a bug, and I’m very glad that it wasn’t simply thrown out as a quirky mistake, because it’s created an incredibly innovative take on the platforming genre. As Squish, a purple blob resembling a bit of playdough, you’re able to dash-smash yourself into certain sections of the world and mold them to your needs. Need to jump over a dangerous pit of spikes? Make yourself a higher platform to jump over them. Gotta get up high? Bang some divots into a wall to climb up. Need to avoid a corrupted enemy? Throw yourself into the ground and hide in that hole until the baddie passes by. Both this mechanic and the game’s platforming are well executed, fun and make for a great medium to create puzzles.
While this mechanic works well, it’s not without flaws. At times, you’ll need to be quite precise as you mold things to successfully complete a puzzle, and it can be frustrating when you don’t seem to have that much precision with your controls. I often found myself having to reset parts of the puzzles (something you can do with a simple press of a button thankfully) because I just couldn’t get Squish to smash his face into the right section of wall. This is most pronounced when you have to deal with lasers, but comes up a few times throughout the game.
Another thing that can be frustrating is that you are only able to mold a platform in Semblance in one way at a time; you could move a platform left or right, or up or down, or create raised sections or smash divots into a surface, but you cannot do these all at the same time. It’s a fair set of rules for the games puzzles, but it’s never acknowledged and did feel limiting in a few instances where could see a possible solution the mechanics didn’t allow.
While Semblance does rely heavily on this one concept of deforming and molding the environment, it does add in a slew of other mechanics and hurdles as you progress to keep things from becoming too one note. You’ll run into void zones that prevent you from dash-smashing, a variety of different lasers, but most notably the ability to deform yourself: by dash-smashing into certain surfaces you can make yourself taller or flatter, whichc affects your speed and jumping ability. It’s a brilliant additions, so much so that I almost wish it was a core part of the game’s mechanics from the very first level.
During the course of playing Semblance, I did run into a few bugs, such as Squish getting caught in a divot, or platforms not moving correctly, but luckily with a built in reset button as a feature of the game, these tiny annoyances never slowed me down or frustrated me.
Narrative is not the focus of Semblance, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a story to be told. The story in Semblance is told non-verbally through the environment, a design decision I really liked. There is enough ambiguity in these drawings, hidden in various caves in the different levels you smash-dash your way through, to keep me guessing. As you progress through the game, they weave a mysterious story that made me question just who might be in the wrong in this world…
Finally, I want to touch on Semblance’s fantastic aesthetic. The entire game is drawn in bold colors and in beautiful contrasting shades. The pinks and purples of the world are opposed to the bright teals and greens of the dangerous crystals, but all the colors are drawn from the same tone, so everything fits together beautifully. All the various characters have a very distinct “squishy” vibe that’s adorable and instantly recognizable and there is a nice dichotomy between the rounded squishyness of Squish and his world and the sharp angles of the green crystalline antagoist force.
All in all, Semblance is a bold, innovative and stylish take on the puzzle platformer genre, literally and figuratively shaping the conventional formula into something different and exciting. It’s a short game, and has little replay value since there’s just one set of puzzle to solve, but it’s worth playing if you’re a fan of puzzle games because Semblance offers a mechanic that I think is truly unique in the genre. I’d love to see it explored and played with more by Nyamakop, and I think Semblance is a fantastic first step for the development team.