Concrete Genie is an excellent example of what happens when passionate developers pour creativity and originality into their games. For the past week, I had the chance to embark on a heartwarming journey filled with life and light in this new exclusive action-adventure game from one of Sony Interactive Entertainment’s smallest development studios, Pixelopus.
Concrete Genie is set in the fictional fishing town of Denska. Once bustling with life, the abandoned area is now a gloomy remnant of what it was, left to decay by its former people. The apparent reason for the townsfolk people’s departure was owed to the arrival of ‘the darkness’, which spread throughout Denska, making the town feel grungy and polluted. It is a mysterious, living organism with glowing purplish-black vines that creep around buildings and envelop objects as a parasite. The town’s only visitors are the hoodlum youth that uses it as their own personal playground. The story kicks off where, after a run-in with a gang of bullies, protagonist Ash watches helplessly as they rip apart his sketchbook and leave his pages to float on the wind and scatter themselves around Denska.
Shoved into a creaky cable car and sent to the lighthouse, he soon discovers that one of his lost sketches rides the wind all the way there too and, to his surprise, magically comes to life in the form of a living, breathing genie that lives on the walls. The genie, an adorable glowing little monster that communicates with hand gestures and deep, mystical growls, grants Ash a paintbrush and a cute little paint minion on his bag. She then tasks him with bringing light back to Denska by painting away the darkness.
Controlling Ash in familiar third-person movement feels natural and light. He’s a scrawny kid that is easily able to climb up walls, jump across roofs and zipline between telephone polls. Painting might feel strange at first as Pixelopus decided to use one of Playstation’s arguably underused features; motion control. Re-centering the brush is simple and after a short amount of practice, it not only feels easier but because you’re creating masterpiece elements with a magic brush, it feels right. For those who really don’t want to use motion control, the good news is that the game does allow players to use the right thumb-stick instead.
Knowing that the core gameplay hinges on getting creative in urban style, the developers spared no effort in giving the painting experience an abundance of detail.
If you took the time to watch this game’s trailer, you’ll probably already know that it’s drop-dead gorgeous. The entire art team have outdone themselves as the town is beautifully believable, even though it’s run down. Every object Ash paints is vibrant, colourful and teeming with life… literally. Knowing that the core gameplay hinges on getting creative in urban style, the developers spared no effort in giving the painting experience an abundance of detail. Trees rustle and flowers gently sway in the wind, fire dances excitedly on the walls and stars sparkle under the night sky. If that isn’t enough, every time you paint an object, it gives off the well-polished sounds of an instrument. Paint it again and it plays the instrument in a new key. Doing it in quick succession composes a tune specific to that object.
It’s these kinds of details that will have you losing track of time as you experiment with your own blend of composition, deleting and re-painting until you think it’s perfect. When you finally remember there are actual tasks to complete, Concrete Genie is a series of fun puzzles to solve with your genies to keep progressing to the next area and clearing more darkness, all while staying hidden from the bullies! You are encouraged to look for more missing pages of Ash’s notebook, each with a sketch of a new object you can paint. Some pages have sketches of fun hats, tails, body-types and other fun things for you to customise the look of your genies.
You are encouraged to look for more missing pages of Ash’s notebook, each with a sketch of a new object you can paint.
Speaking of, the genies steal the show with their awkward, animal-like growls and charming affection for Ash. Other than helping you solve puzzles and move past obstacles, there are multiple opportunities for you to interact with them. Genies will often show interest in Ash painting specific objects or take a moment to ask you to play with them. Sometimes they will interact with your paintings in ways you wouldn’t expect. One example is that I painted a wall full of multi-coloured apples, left and came back, only for my apples to have disappeared. Feeling suspicious, I drew one more apple and waited. Surely enough, my genie came creeping around the corner and happily snacked on my work of art.
Unlike any game I’ve ever played, after a couple of hours into the campaign, Concrete Genie surprisingly introduces a completely different style of gameplay in a fun and exciting way, the details of which will not be spoiled here. What I will touch on, however, is the VR experience. It’s nothing to write home about in terms of narrative as it’s basically just an opportunity to immerse yourself and paint in beautiful 3D and 2D spaces. The cool thing is that every new paintable object you unlock in the main game unlocks for the VR Experience too.
The story is simple in its narrative with themes of home, adventure, being the underdog, discovery, understanding and even redemption…
Perhaps the only place I could give this game a little bit of flack is in the storyline. It’s by no means bad but I did feel like there was some missed potential to dive a little deeper into the characters. The story is simple in its narrative with themes of home, adventure, being the underdog, discovery, understanding and even redemption, all wrapped up with a message that is positive and sweet. Again, it’s not bad but it’s also not great. What Concrete Genie lacks in the storyline, it more than makes up in its music. Sam Marshall’s score is a fantastic and convincing part of Denska that never fails to hit all the right notes at the right time.
Before I sign off, I almost forgot to mention something super important and, in hindsight, obvious. Whenever a game is gloriously beautiful, it often comes along with a photo-mode and Concrete Genie is no exception! Enjoy painting to your heart’s content with the town as your canvas while overlooking stunning cloudy landscapes over the water. Capture your art as it fades into view with the replay function, edit contrast, vignette, lens flare and more to get it Insta-ready or share them to the internet where people will doubtlessly be using them as their new background images (I’m one of them). I could go on about this game for a while but by now I imagine I’ve probably painted a pretty good picture… (ed – Here at Nexus, we live for puns).
As fun as the main campaign was, most players that complete it would probably come to the conclusion that Concrete Genie’s longevity comes from its post-game potential. Personally, I can’t wait to jump back into Denska, relax to enchanting music and get creative with a full palette of unlocked objects. If you’re someone looking for a chilled way to spend some downtime or recharge your positive battery with gorgeous pieces, I imagine that there’s nothing quite like taking some time to lose yourself in this aesthetic wonderland.
Concrete Genie unleashes our creativity with a beautiful adventure that’s charming, innovative, and above all, wholesome.