'Concrete Genie' Offers A Beautiful Story You'll Want To Play Again and Again
If you're looking for a charming, beautifully illustrated, wonderfully immersive and emotionally poignant PS4 exclusive, Concrete Genie has got you covered. This art-based puzzler/adventure game packs a delightfully stirring adventure into its six-hour runtime that you'll be clamouring to play through again from the very the moment you see the credits roll.
You play as Ash: a talented illustrator with an eye for colour, and a gentle soul on the receiving end of some heinous bullying. More on that later. As Ash, you'll be going around the seaside town of Denska, painting various spots to brighten up your world and eradicate the darkness that has taken over. Thanks to the game's endearing art style and heartwarming score, it's not long before you're fully gripped by the magic of Concrete Genie. Exploring each zone in the game is a joy, and there's a real sense of wonder awaiting within.
As you paint your way through Denska, you will create genies who serve as your friends and assistants on your adventure. There are three different types of genie you'll need - fire, electric and wind - and each offers help in a different way. Fire can burn through tarpaulin, electric will activate circuits, and wind genies can move items with a gust of air. All of these powers are vital to progression, and sometimes you'll need to combine them, adding another dimension to gameplay.
As for the genies, you can get really creative with their designs - I made everything from cute critters to outright abominations - thanks to the huge amount of options available. Perhaps you want a tall, bipedal genie with a six ears and a moustache? Or maybe you want to go for four legs and six tails. It's your choice, my friend, so channel your inner Star-Lord and make some weird... stuff.
You can also interact with your genies by feeding them, watching TV or playing with an alley cat. And yes, you can pet the kitty. Engaging with your creations makes for some sweet moments, and demonstrates the childlike joy and wonder Concrete Genie is going for. You'll find yourself smiling in genuine pleasure as you see your illustrated friends excitably eat an apple, or cutely run from lightning. Seriously, this game will take years off your soul if you let it. There are also masterpieces for you to create. These huge and vibrant pieces of art let you see your friend Luna, who is your main genie in the game and completely adorable.
It's not all good times and happy memories though. As I mentioned before, there are some nasty bullies to look out for as you paint a brighter world. If they find you, you'll have to escape before they steal your special paintbrush, although it's not a massive hassle if they do. In that scenario, they simply throw it somewhere they deem hard to get to - but as Ash can parkour with the best of them, retrieving it is no problem. Just like real life, these bullies aren't particularly sharp. Bullies, eh?
Seriously though, what kind of massive scumbag chooses to bully someone? Well, our hero slowly learns why these kids are so mean to him, but in his own words, "that doesn't make it okay." Well said, Ash. Luckily, our protagonist is a real diamond of a kid and decides to do what's right despite the difficulties he faces. Inspiring stuff, let me tell you.
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The gameplay in Concrete Genie is simple but well executed. You'll need to explore streets and scale buildings to paint every spot, and there are also billboards throughout the game that you can paint too, with each one unlocking concept art.
There are further collectibles in the form of newspapers around the map that teach you more about the world of Denska, and marked locations where you can share some adorable moments with your genies. Various pages are hidden in every zone too, each of which unlocks a new thing for you to paint, ranging from scenery to genie parts. Just make sure you watch your step, as a fall from height or into water will prove fatal, but this only really results in a short delay as Ash respawns nearby.
As the game goes on - and without spoiling anything - you'll gain access to a more fluid way of moving around a level, as well as a new combat mechanic. Both of these elements add welcome spice to gameplay, but even when the stakes are raised, the challenge remains fairly simple. Enemies are not particularly hard to overcome, but Concrete Genie isn't trying to be a hard-as-nails brawler, so it doesn't really impact the overall experience.
Aesthetically, the game offers a pleasing art style with a look of works by Tim Burton and Henry Selick. Light is used to create an optimistic sense of good, with dark motifs cleverly contrasting and establishing certain areas and characters as being in turmoil. No person or thing in Concrete Genie is inherently bad, they were just made that way, and the artistic direction conveys this concept perfectly.
The game tells its story wonderfully, with a relevant environmentalist theme that becomes more obvious as things develop, and a moral centre focused on how hurting each other damages more than we intend it to. There's also the touching notion of people being stronger when we work together, which is an important lesson that we can always benefit from hearing again.
The whole game offers up an innocent thrill with the kind of naive charm you get from a well-crafted kids movie, like The Goonies. The characters all have a delightful appeal, the world of Denska is enchanting, and the story is well delivered. It is on the short side, and doesn't feel like a challenge even when the story suggests you're in a difficult moment, but it's definitely worth replaying again and again. In short, Concrete Genie is a beautiful game all about emotions and doing what's right, and it's truly very special.
Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment, PixelOpus