Concrete Genie is one of those rare titles that takes me back to the PS3 days. PlayStation published games like Tokyo Jungle, Echochrome, Flower, and Puppeteer during the PS3 era, and those games were some of the most underrated gems I played last generation. Concrete Genie is like those games with its quirky characteristics that felt fresh from the current games being released.
Concrete Genie is set in an abandoned fictional town called Denska. It was once a lively fishing town, until an oil tanker sank and spilled near Denska’s waters. This led to the economy spiraling down and many of the previous inhabitants moved on to greener pastures. The town is engulfed in a dark sludge called “darkness” and the main character, Ash, must find a way to dispose of it.
However, Ash doesn’t quite know how to help the town yet. The game starts us off with him reading a note from his parents to stay a way from Denska and teaching us how to doodle in the notebook. Ash is quickly interrupted by some local bullies that graffiti and trash the once thriving town. The bullies take his notebook, rip it, and then send him up to the abandoned lighthouse via a cable car. This is where one of his doodled “genies” come to life and guides you to a magical paintbrush that can get rid of the darkness. From here, it is up to Ash to paint the city walls and get rid of the darkness that has taken over Denska.
The story is simplistic, but there are a couple of “deep” themes to the story. However, you won’t know the full story of Denska unless you find the newspaper articles littered within the town. Talking about the themes are a little spoilerish, so read at your own risk.
*****SPOILERS***** Once you find the newsletters you learn that Denska’s darkness is the manifestation from negative thoughts and energy by the residents. These negative thoughts gained traction from the oil spill and it eventually leads to Denska’s demise. It shows how the attitude and mindset of people can cripple and lead to the destruction of a society. Had the town tried to work at recovering from the oil spill, the people of Denska may not have had to move away.
The other theme Concrete Genie touches on are the about bullies and comes naturally from playing the game. During separate parts of the game, Ash and a bully or two will grab the brush at the same time. This leads to Ash learning about some of the bullies’ troubles at home. It shows the struggles kids have dealing with common events, such as divorce and how it can lead to destructive behavior. You come to understand that even though these kids are being rotten to Ash, there’s a reason for their attitudes and that they also need help in their own way. *****END SPOILERS ******
Concrete Genie’s gameplay is very simplistic and if you are looking for a game that will test your mind, you may not find this an enjoyable experience. For the most part, you are pretty much just painting walls and creating genies to help Ash unlock new doors to the town. The gameplay reminds me more of the game Flower more than anything else. It’s a relaxing experience that lets you play at your own pace. You have an objective, but if you want to spend hours painting the walls in the fish market, you have every right to do that. That’s the beauty of this game.
Painting in the game is very simple and easy to use. Concrete Genie isn’t going to judge you on your paintings, and that’s a huge bonus to someone like me. I mean, when I was in high school (don’t ask me how long ago that was), my art teacher loved one of my sketches and showed it off to the other art teacher. The next week, we had to paint what we sketched and my art teacher didn’t want to even show it off to middle schoolers. Regardless, Concrete Genie gives you objects to paint instead of giving you the freedom of individual brush strokes. I couldn’t help but try to paint every wall I could, and it made me happy to see Denska engulfed by my moving art.
There were a few things that I didn’t love about the painting. For one, the motion controls are mediocre. I was constantly calibrating my cursor to make sure my movements were accurate. It wasn’t a major problem, but it could get annoying at times when my tree or flower went horizontal. I also wish there were more objects to mess around with. There’s around 50 total landscape objects to choose from, but you can quickly run into painting similar pieces of art rather quickly. The last part about the painting I didn’t like, was painting the genies. Putting on ears, horns, tails, etc. wasn’t all that fun to me and I generally wasn’t proud of how my genies ended up looking. I think it would have been a little bit different had they given the player the option to put different arms and legs in. It just never felt 100 percent like my genie, when I was creating them.
Even though I did not necessarily like painting the genies, I did enjoy interacting with them. The genies would react to what you painted and there were certain collectibles that would make the genies perform different actions. The game wants you to be attached to your genies, and your genies are vital to your progression in the game. The genies are your outlet to move objects and clear the darkness. I believe this is the part where Pixelopus could have elected to make this game more of a puzzle based game. They could have made the paint have different environmental effects, such as using the lighting to turn on power, but there was nothing of the sort. Instead, genies are the ones that would move boxes or turn on the power after painting objects they wanted to see. Like I’ve said before, it’s very simplistic , but I don’t think the intent of the game was to stump players with environmental puzzles. This keeps players focused on the one main goal of the game, to keep the player painting.
Around the last third of the game, there is a story event that ends up changing the core gameplay of Concrete Genie. Instead of focusing on painting, players have to attack the darkness with the paint brush and maneuver like a skateboard. I thought this change in direction totally made sense with the direction of the storyline. Fighting the darkness may not be the most thrilling part of the game, but it was a fresh new way to play, and it doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, I felt like it was a necessary step to conclude the story.
****SOME MORE SPOILERS**** Ash is attacked again by the bullies and it’s much worse this time around. It gets bad enough that the negative thoughts and feelings finally come out of Ash. These negative emotions end up giving the darkness the power to take over Ash’s genies. This creates the new gameplay mechanic, and I love that these dark genies manifest from Ash’s internal problems. Like I said, it was a direction that completely made sense to me, and even though fighting wasn’t a necessary step for the game, I had no problem with them changing the gameplay around. ****END OF MORE SPOILERS****
The last thing I wanted to touch on is the free VR mode included in the game. It’s fantastic! You start off in a room and learn how to paint on the walls. This is similar to the main game’s painting mechanics, as you are only painting on a 2D plain. What ended up surprising me is the inclusion of a 3D room. Drawing trees and grass now had depth to them and it was easy to paint in all 3 dimensions. I’m really at a loss of words on how to describe painting something as simple as a night sky with stars, trees, lights, and a campfire could look so cool. It was my little world and I was free to put whatever I wanted in it.
The trophies in the game are solid, and you don’t have to go out of your way to get them. The collectibles are fun to find and are essential to obtaining more objects to paint in the game. I only struggled finding two of the collectibles, but it was the first time in a while I was determined to find them by myself rather than use a guide. Other than collectibles, most of the trophies are story related, and I kind of wish they would have had included trophies for finding some of the easter eggs in the game. Overall, the trophy list is a 8/10 for me.
Concrete Genie is a wonderful and vibrant experience that brings out your inner artist. Even if you suck at painting, like I do, there’s always something beautiful you can create, screenshot, and hang on your mom’s refrigerator. My experience with Concrete Genie will leave a lasting impression on me, and I will be coming back every now and then to improve my painting skills.
I do hope that Pixelopus continues to support the game post launch with adding extra objects to paint and expanding on the VR mode, because they definitely have created an amazing piece of art for us to interact with. One last thing I wanted to mention is that I did have a couple of camera problems playing the game, but I only started to notice it after I beat the game and searched for the rest of the collectibles. I also had one frustrating moment where the genies weren’t following me correctly and I wanted to throw my controller at the wall.
Overall, the camera problems and frustrations were far and few between, and it shouldn’t be a problem for most people. If you are looking for a game to stump your mind with puzzles, don’t pick up this game. However, if you want a fun, relaxing, and creative experience with a lot of love put into it, go buy this game right now!