Semblance, the smartly-priced platformer from South African studio Nyamakop, has been somewhat jokingly referred to as the ‘first real platformer’. Looking at that quote out of context could understandably cause some confusion, and might even inspire the odd eye roll. However, it is perhaps the ‘first real platformer’ in the sense that its puzzles revolve entirely around tweaking its world’s various types of platform formations.
The player assumes the role of a small blob, who appears to be attempting to rid the land of some form of crystalline menace. The blob’s world is an inherently squishy and malleable one, but these aforementioned crystals have a corrupting influence – making everything hard.
Gameplay will have you making holes in the ground to dodge oncoming enemies, creating crevasses in vertical walls in order to climb them, and redirecting lasers to safely manoeuvre around perilous environments. Controls don’t always feel as tight as they really should, and getting stuck in walls is an all too common occurrence, but it generally works well enough for these issues not to overpower all that the game does so well.
The levels are divided up by different trees, which must all be healed through completing this non-linear series of puzzles. When I say that it’s non-linear, I mean that all of these trees can be accessed at any time. This affords players the chance to back away from any potential brick walls in the way of progression. It can be challenging, but it’s never going to be overly frustrating.
It’s for this reason that the game’s pacing rarely sags. It also helps that there isn’t really a traditional difficulty curve in the way that you might expect from a puzzle game, where every new section is typically harder than the last. Every so often, you will definitely come across a real head-scratcher, but they’re typically interspersed with multiple easier, confidence-affirming puzzles, that really help to drive the player through the game.
IT CAN BE CHALLENGING, BUT IT’S NEVER GOING TO BE OVERLY FRUSTRATING.
Besides the sound puzzle-solving elements, the game also manages to deliver a relaxing audiovisual experience. The score excels at remaining subdued whilst still feeling ever present, adding to the atmosphere of calm. The visuals are simple but clear, and what story there is can be sought out through examining various murals, dotted around the world. Again, the design ethos here appears to be that the player’s experience should revolve around the gameplay, with minimal distractions or roadblocks in the way of fun.
Overall, despite occasionally fiddly controls and the odd glitch getting in the way, Semblance remains a good time, with some genuinely innovative ideas, and a cooling atmosphere all of its own.