Yada, yada yada, I don’t like puzzle games. Followers of the site should know that by now but a few have managed to break through my manly exterior and show me a really good time. Last year’s Hue comes to mind. Something about a meaningful story and gorgeous art just gets to me regardless of platform or genre. That’s why Semispheres quickly caught my attention when it was first announced. Tranquil music mixed with delightful visuals overshadowed the puzzle elements and said play me. My ability to verbally speak with inanimate video games aside, my sense of puzzlers I’d enjoy continues to not let me down.
The plot itself deals with a young child getting a new best friend in the form of a sentient robot. The pair and their parent enjoy each other’s company until a frightening event happens. This is all told by beautifully drawn and sketched comic boxes like that of Sunday newspapers. Once you complete a stage, the next set of box art appears on screen. All and all there’s not much depth to the narrative but it is meaningful. Just be aware that the title will only take two or three hours to beat.
The gameplay of Semispheres isn’t concretely connected to the small tale it’s trying to tell. Unless you imagine you’re operating the inner workings of a machine. You control two jellyfish-like creatures in each level of each stage, one blue and one orange. The stages themselves will have anywhere from three to five levels apart of it. Both are controlled by seperate thumb sticks (L3, R3) and can only travel on their color, with a few exceptions, while trying to reach a vortex that acts as the level’s end. Being a puzzle game and all, the design won’t be very straightforward. There will be white dots with a recognizable field of view who will spawn you back to the discovered jellyfish’s starting position. You’ll need to employ strategies and tactics through movement and pickup abilities to get by them.
Most of the levels will offer some type of capability for our cutely designed jellyfish. They’ll be usable once touched via the L1 and R1 buttons and consist of a pulsewave that attracts a dot guard’s attention, an ability to switch locations, swap positions, create a line that acts like chutes and ladders from the famous board game, and more. As I mentioned the solution to some puzzles will encroach on each other’s color territory, but for the most part orange will stay on orange and blue will keep to blue. There will also be circular rips in some places that allow a jellyfish to appear on their counterpart’s side of the screen and interact with whatever is there with whatever ability you currently have. I’ll be honest and say that as far as challenges go, Semispheres didn’t offer much in the way of difficulty. A few levels did temporarily stump me but the only true challenges will come in later stages. Although dare I say it, that was perfectly fine.
Part of Semispheres’ charm dealt with the art style and soundtrack. The different use of a few hues were expertly done and there’s a reason Vivid Helix coined this as a meditative puzzler. Everything about the graphics and music were relaxing. Probably beneficial for those using a certain substance. In seriousness whenever I needed to take a step back and think on how to proceed, closing my eyes and listening to the melody really did help. If anything to prevent a headache from tossing and turning ideas over.
Game length may be a problem for some, but more pressing cons dealt with how I found my way out of certain scenarios. If you happen to have both jellyfish on the same screen, you can use one to move into a dot’s crosshairs and rush on by with the other one. Basically sneak by while the thing’s attention is elsewhere. Yes, even if you enter the dot’s “area” it still won’t register you like it should if it’s no longer distracted. I was able to get by a few roadblocks by just utilizing this exploit on several maps. One time I skipped a whole step and ignored half of a the map. I mean I was proud of myself for thinking up of this trick but it certainly wasn’t intended. Both from a puzzle solution and design standpoint.
Semispheres is a short, sweet, and succinct puzzle game. It’s not too hard and the learning curve is fairly kind so non-puzzle gamers have nothing to fear here. The last few stages and levels will make you think though unless you exploit around them. Most will certainly appreciate the art and music which are arguably the game’s best features. Hell, you could legitimately meditate to the tunes if you truly wanted. I can easily recommend this title to fans of the genre, just understand how long the experience will last.
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* Reviewed using a base PS4.