Imagine a soft, colorful world where most everything is malleable. Now imagine this world infected by a crystalline hardness that’s killing the world’s soft lifeforms. This is what’s happening in the world of Semblance. To save it, players must manipulate the landscape to collect essence, which can heal the infected world.
Semblance was developed by Nyamakop, and it’s the first game from a South African development studio to be released on a Nintendo console. The game’s graphics pay tribute to its homeland with baobab trees, which are heavily afflicted by the infectious hardness. (Baobab trees are dying in the real world, too, and we wonder if the devs had this in mind.)
Semblance turns the idea of a traditional platformer on its head since this game’s platforms aren’t designed to just stay put. Instead, they are meant to be bumped, bent, and molded by the player to facilitate puzzle-solving, and their pliancy is a central mechanic in this game.
Semblance doesn’t offer much story, but it doesn’t have to. The idea that a soft world has been invaded by hardness—which is crystalline, colorful, and lovely—is a truly loaded idea, and it may even pass as a super-vague storyline. Besides, we get a little more context with bits of lore found in hidden areas, so we at least have a rough idea of what’s going on.
For a puzzle game, Semblance is straightforward. The game is set in three big, infected trees (“worlds”), each containing six sub-trees (“levels”). Each big tree has its own look and feel and introduces new mechanics. For example, the second big tree introduces laser beams, and the third big tree lets you change your shape by slapping yourself against shiny pink slabs.
Each sub-tree is filled with puzzles guarding 3-7 essences. Your job? Solve each puzzle to collect the essences, then use those essences to heal the infected sub-tree. Over the course of the game, you’ll heal all the trees, and after accomplishing this feat, you’ll unlock the final tree and boss, which will put your platforming and puzzle-solving skills to the ultimate test.
The sub-tree levels are linear: as you move to the right, the camera moves to focus on the puzzle at hand. Puzzles involve gathering essences, which are often out of reach. You’ll need to mold your pliable world by bashing into it with your character and watching it transform. Then, use your jump and dash to gather the essences.
Each big tree has its own theme, elements, and mechanics, so gameplay is always kept interesting. And if you’re ever stuck on a particular sub-tree, you can always try a different sub-tree in that area, or you can try a sub-tree in a different big tree. This is helpful for situations where you’re sick of the level you’re stuck on, or you’re in the mood for something different.
Semblance takes a minimalist approach with its sounds and visuals, and this style suits the game well. While you won’t see an extended rainbow of colors here, each big tree has its own stand-out aesthetic, and we like the game’s overall color palette. An atmospheric soundtrack pairs perfectly with the moody color scheme, and detailed little sound effects—like the “whoosh” of a flying object—help immerse you into the game.
If you like platforming puzzlers, Semblance is definitely a game to look into. It’s a perfect length for the price-point, and there’s even some replayability, since a good deal of hidden lore and secrets can be found throughout the sub-trees. There are no enemies in Semblance, so don’t expect fast-paced action or combat. But there are plenty of dangers and obstacles, and you’ll definitely be in for a challenge.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Good Shepherd
Developer – Nyamakop
Price – $9.99
Genre – Puzzle, Platformer, Adventure
Size – 2.3 GB
Nick and Sarah are the ultimate gaming couple. Nick introduced Sarah to the world of Nintendo games. Nick’s favorites are platformers tough as nails, like Super Meat Boy, Celeste, and The End is Nigh. Sarah prefers titles with more exploration and simulation, like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Skyrim. But Nick and Sarah both agree that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of the best games of all time!