Semblance is a puzzle platformer developed by South African studio Nyamakop and published by Good Shepherd. It released on July 24th, 2018, costs $10, and is available on PC and Switch. I played Semblance on the Nintendo Switch.
I loooove games with weird but exceptional ideas, and Semblance fits the bill perfectly. It’s a platformer with an emphasis on the form part. After playing it, I found myself asking, “This really has never been done before?? It’s so obvious now and such a perfect fit for the genre!” Semblance has unique gameplay and solid level design. That being said, I feel the game should have been left in the oven just a little bit longer.
You play as Squish, an amorphous blob set out to save the forest from evil crystals. As you’d expect from a sentence-long story, this is a very minimalist game. And minimalist suits it well. It allows Semblance to get right to the point, revolving around one mechanic that’s fairly fleshed out.
The developers took the concept of shaping platforms and explored it to a degree that’s close to Nintendo levels of care. Almost. They delivered one new gimmick per world, with a final test of each gimmick at the end. These final puzzles really had me thinking them through, with lots of trial and error. Exactly how I like my puzzles.
The game had a lot of quality-of-life features I appreciated, too. If a certain puzzle is giving you a hard time, you can go back and try another level or even another world. In fact, you can tackle any challenge in any order you please. You can also easily reset your puzzle and any mistakes you make, though sadly you might need to use this feature often.
The controls aren’t bad, but there are times when the game asks for more precision than the controls allow. Squish’s movement feels a bit slippery, like sliding a stick of butter on a warm pan. I guess he is a blob, after all, but it means you keep overcorrecting myself and hit platforms at the wrong angle.
Semblance’s art direction features clean, monochromatic worlds. And for the most part it works well. It’s relaxing, it fits great with the atmospheric soundtrack, and it allows you to focus on the task at hand. And on Switch it looks fantastic in handheld mode. It became problematic when the screen zooms out for a few big puzzles and you have to jump around to find Squish again as he tends to blend in with the color palette.
My biggest criticism of all though, is that the game is short. Really short. My first playthrough lasted about 4 hours. The game needed just one more world with one more level gimmick to feel truly complete. The final series of challenges at the end of the game also felt a bit rushed, like they needed to put together more of the gimmicks from the whole game. For what its worth, I feel like wanting more even after my gripes is much to the game’s benefit, though. I’d rather want more than have too much.
Overall, I liked Semblance’s new take on platforming and I liked all the ideas it explored. However, little things added up to what felt like it needed just a little more time in development. Just tighten up the controls and make another world and the game would be all set. It’s a cheap game, but even then you might wait for a sale or an update. If you’re into minimalist puzzle games like BoxBoy, I’d highly recommend it!