Semblance Review — A Squishy, Minimalist Adventure
In Semblance, you solve satisfyingly challenging puzzles as a cute little squish in order to save a soft, moldable world from a crystalline infection.
Recently, I have become interested in 2D puzzle platformer games and have been eager to try out a variety of them. Some seem to follow the same formula with the only difference being a different character and story, but Semblance provided me with a fresh approach to the puzzle platforming genre. In case you didn’t know, the definition of the word “semblance” is a noun that is the outward appearance of something, especially when it’s set in a different reality. The definition makes it the perfect title for this unique platform game.
Developed by Nyamakop and published by Good Shepard Entertainment, Semblance allows players to make their way as an adorable squishy blob. You can morph your way through nooks and crannies on a soft planet that has no sharp edges, that is… until an invading crystalline infection takes over each of its three worlds. As protagonist Squish, you jump into little portals at the center of the trees that are tarnished by the crystalline that transport you to each section of the game. As you solve the puzzles that cure the planet, you come across clues that begin to paint a picture as to what made the world become so unyieldingly harsh.
When I first saw Squish, I was immediately reminded of Dory from Finding Nemo when she says, “I shall call him squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my squishy,” so you could say that I really liked my little guy.
The goal throughout the different parts of the game is to grab each of the hovering collectibles that are available just out of reach. Once each of them is collected, the toxic crystals melt away and the world is cured. What makes Semblance different from other platform games is that fact not only can the little Squish mold to fit small spaces, but it can also manipulate the environment around it. Certain parts of the game’s setting can be morphed and dented to help you figure out a way around obstacles in order to grab the collectibles, and you can also boost your jumps in order to help get into those hard to reach places.
Obviously, there are limits to how much the world can be changed. Platforms can only be shifted so far, and they can only be manipulated in one direction at a time by slamming into them so many times. If you aren’t happy with your morphing creation, thankfully you can easily reset platforms, walls, and the ground back to their original position with the touch of a button. This seriously is a godsend when experimenting with the best way to reach the collectibles.
The levels are laid out in a way that doesn’t leave you with a set path to take, so if one puzzle seems to be taking too long to solve, you can always skip it and come back later. This is great, as only a few have almost stumped me so far.
Overall, the controls are pretty simple as well, but sometimes it’s awkward to boost a diagonal jump or to actually jump off of a bouncy piece of ground or wall. I also found that sometimes when I was trying to make my way by jumping from wall to wall while creating footholds, I needed to reset my creation because my little Squish would get trapped in the walls and could not be moved. Thankfully, Squish can be reset to a nearby spot when the game is paused, but it still got frustrating as it killed my momentum while coasting through.
As the game progresses, the puzzles get progressively more difficult to solve, and each world has its own specific obstacles to overcome such as lasers that make the environment completely solid, walls of colored bubbles that don’t allow you to boost or reset any changes made, and annoying, buzzing crystal insects. As the puzzles to solve get more challenging, it becomes tougher at a very appreciated gradual pace for the most part.
Eventually, the obstacles in place can also be used to actually help make a way to reach the collectibles. After seven hours of my own gameplay, I still have more to go, and most of the puzzles to solve feel new and not the same tired recreation of another one from before as I’ve seen in other platform games. This makes me believe that the game can definitely be replayed after being completed without feeling tired.
The simplistically beautiful worlds in Semblance are a huge part of the game’s charm. Each world has a different a color scheme and aesthetic, right down to the atmospherically perfect music that is played throughout the levels. The background of each minimalistic level is filled with trees, other plants, and little creatures that sometimes interact with you as you squish on by. The beauty is in its simplicity that allows you focus on each obstacle. In fact, I found certain parts rather relaxing as the atmosphere of each level’s imagery and its music completely drew me in.
One minimalistic thing that I wish had been a little more elaborate and obvious is the game’s story. As you make your way, you see what look like cave drawings scattered throughout that begin to piece together why this soft world has been tarnished. However, the illustrations are somewhat out of the way in some areas, so those interested may miss them.
Semblance is a unique platformer whose minimalistic environment is the perfect background to the satisfyingly challenging puzzles that must be solved in order to save the adorable Squish’s world. It’s relaxing, aesthetically pleasing, and gradually increases its difficulty in a way that is fresh each time and does not get repetitive. While the controls of the game and the maneuvering of Squish can be a bit awkward at times, overall it is a very pleasant experience. As the debut game of developer Nyamakop, this only makes me really excited to see what they will do next and what other unique games they will create.