Developed By: Nyamakop
Published By: Gambitious
Category: Puzzle, Platformer, Adventure
Release Date: 7.24.18
Semblance for the Nintendo Switch has gotten some press being the first game developed by a South African studio to hit a Nintendo system. Nyamakop’s hard work paid off, producing a wonderful puzzle platformer revolving around an innovative terrain-altering mechanic. It’s not a perfect game, but it is a lot of fun.
The story in Semblance is told without any words, which is a bold choice with mixed results. On the one hand, watching the history of the world unfold via cave paintings and short cutscenes is a pretty cool idea. On the other, things are never exactly made clear in a way that a more traditional narrative structure could have achieved. From what I can tell, the basic premise is that green crystalline structures began growing around the world. You are a resident of the world who takes up the task of collecting orbs in each level to cleanse the world of the crystals. The story isn’t really that important to the whole experience, and having a world with a rich back story to explore is a great background feature. I just wish there was a more concrete narrative around it.
Semblance starts off with a pretty basic platformer premise; you jump around from platform to platform, collecting pink orbs to complete a level before warping back to the base area. There are a bunch of orbs to collect in each level, usually somewhere around five. There are spikes and lasers and all kinds of hazards that will kill you if you touch them, but in a welcome gameplay decision the developers decided to keep the focus on puzzle solving over other types of challenges, and if you die you respawn pretty much right where you died so you don’t have to redo the whole level. For people that are too dumb for a lot of puzzle games (like, say, myself), this reduces the frustration level of the experience quite a bit.
But regular platforming rules aren’t what makes this game fun. Most surfaces in the game can be morphed by ramming into them. Any dark purple surface can be morphed, and if it’s a free-floating platform, it can be moved to one side or another by hitting it from the side. It provides a really cool mechanic for puzzle solving, as every orb requires you to move some terrain to get to it. Moving terrain can alter the trajectory of lasers, move spikes out of the way, or just give you a higher platform to jump from. You can create a ladder by making small dents in a wall, and I could go on. There are a lot of cool ways to use the power, and if you mess up, you can hit a button and reset the terrain you’re next to. It’s a really fun mechanic that is used to make some very creative and sometimes very difficult puzzles.
Minimalist art styles seem to be the go-to choice for most indie games, and Semblance is no exception to that. That’s not to say that the game isn’t beautiful; some games can do a lot with a little. Semblance’s graphics often reminded me of Eric Carle’s art. The color palette is mostly greens and purples, and most of the game is solid colors. The crystals have a sort of watercolor look to them, as do a few crystal-heavy backgrounds. The music is similarly simple, but pleasant. The score never gets very intense, instead focusing on soft, calming beats to keep you focused on the puzzles. Overall, the art direction of the game is wonderful.
Semblance has no touch or motion controls, so playing it docked or undocked is much the same experience. I honestly didn’t see much difference in the graphics between the Switch’s handheld screen and my TV either, so I don’t have a strong recommendation towards how to play the game. I just recommend that you do.
TL;DR: Fun, innovative platformer.