• Developer: PixelOpus
  • Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
  • Platform: PS4
  • Release Date: October 4th, 2019
  • Price: $29.99
  • Reviewed On: PS4 (Base Model)
  • Review Code Provided: No

Concrete Genie is the second game from studio PixelOpus (the creators of Entwined) and a game that allows the player to scratch their creative itch. Have you ever wanted to create sprawling murals and landscapes around town without getting in trouble? Well, Pixel Opus’ latest masterpiece will give you the opportunity.

Concrete Genie introduces us to Ash, who spends most of his time drawing in his sketchbook, avoiding bullies and other life circumstances that keep him down. One day, the bullies take their actions too far and rip apart Ash’s sketchbook and force him to take a trip to a mysterious lighthouse connected by a lift system. When he arrives there, one of his sketches named Luna comes to life and gives Ash a paintbrush with the ability to paint moving and breathing murals. Ash is now tasked with bringing the abandoned town of Denska back to life and recollect the pages of his sketchbook that are now scattered around the town. The story will pull at your heartstrings as its both endearing and empowering at the same time.

You will notice the game’s art style right away. Ash and the rest of the people you meet have a distinct sketchbook-like look to them. The look of the landscapes, which are the game’s paintable items, are bright, colorful and have nice lighting effects that make them pop. They really look nice in contrast to the grey and blank looking scenery of Denska. You can tell you have been to a certain area when all of a sudden the place is just glowing with color. 

Rather than opting to give the player the ability to draw what they want, Concrete Genie gives you an array of drawable items that you can place on any wall. That may sound off-putting at first but the landscape system works great and improves the pacing of the game. Any landscape can be manipulated to your liking, so it does not just feel like you are plopping items onto a canvas. Using the game’s motion controls, you can shape these items in any way you like. Big, small, curvy, wavy, the choice is yours and the motion controls never feel like they are getting in the way of your creativity. This also applies to the numerous Genies that you will create across the span of your adventure.

The Genies are your companions throughout the adventure and are downright adorable. There are plenty of fun interactive moments between Ash and the genies, that includes playing basketball, vocal performances and paintings that are requested by the genies themselves. Many of these interactions are required to solve the game’s puzzles and progress through to the next area. Genies come in three elemental types (fire, electric and wind), and certain elements are required for certain puzzles. You may need to burn through a certain material or give an electrical panel a jump start.

You will collect more genies as make your way through Denska and the genies are fully customizable. Once you find an opportunity to resurrect one, you will get to choose the body shape and features like horns, tails, feathers, hats and much more. Your creations come to life and follow you through the walls of the buildings and are recorded in your journal. Finding pages hidden throughout the town will unlock more genie parts for you to add to your little monsters and you can edit their parts at any time.

The town of Denska tells a story itself. It was once a lively place but has become dark and isolated. One of the game’s collectibles is newspapers that chronicle the downfall of the town and serves to flesh out the story and motivations of our young hero. It’s a great feeling to see the dreary town transform into a bright and colorful place by the end of your journey. The game records all of your paintings so you could leave an area, come back to it in an hour and your masterpiece will still be there.

The game features a photo mode that allows you to capture your landscapes in picture or video form. By simply pressing down the L3 and R3 thumbstick, you get the opportunity to take control of the game’s camera and place it anywhere you wish, within proximity of Ash. One neat feature allows you to unveil your landscapes from start to finish in a timelapse. Watching your work of art start from your first flower and evolve to a burgeoning landscape is always fun to watch. Using the SHARE button, you can capture anything you make in photo mode and upload it for the world to see.

Concrete Genie’s gameplay borrows elements of other games to create a functional experience. It is not trying to be the next Metal Gear Solid with its stealth mechanics or the next Assassin’s Creed with its climbing and traversal. Instead, it pools together these aspects to create a gameplay experience that facilitates the story. For people looking for a core gameplay driven experience, Concrete Genie will sadly disappoint those people. Even if you are just looking for an active experience, this game is again going to disappoint you. Concrete Genie is very much a passive experience for most of the 6 to 7 hours runtime… at least until you hit chapter 5.

The game throws a curveball and suddenly introduces combat to the game. Without spoiling too much of the story, Ash gains the ability to use the genie elements to fight against a new emerging threat. Again the combat is not trying to reinvent the wheel but is a nice addition late in the game that helps bring the story to a more climactic conclusion. This portion of the game comes and goes quickly, and this is an indication of the game’s biggest gripe.

Some would say its “done before it overstays its welcome”, but after finishing a playthrough, there is definitely a heavy longing for more game. Yes, the game was budget-priced because of the short length but the content in this package is so enjoyable that you can not help but feel the offering is too cohesive. And with the developer stating that there are no future plans for downloadable content, the experience is even more finite.

Once you finish the last chapter, the player can go back to collect missing collectibles and discover a couple of post-game goodies. Concrete Genie also has a “free paint” mode that allows you to paint whatever you like in a section of the city with all the landscapes unlocked. The mode is no different than what you were doing in the original game, but with a blank canvas, the player gets another opportunity to paint the town however they see fit.

If you have a PlayStation VR headset, you can jump into the game’s two VR experience modes. The player is now put in a first-person perspective with the ability to not only paint the walls but other surfaces like floors too. The first mode is essentially free paint in virtual reality and is pretty fun. The second mode is a separate smaller sized campaign called “Splotch and the Crystal Canvas”. In this mini-adventure, you follow the genie Splotch as you explore a few brand new stages. The campaign is short but is an enjoyable add-on to the game if you have a VR headset.

Overall, Concrete Genie is a welcome addition to the PlayStation family of games and stands out among its bigger action-oriented contemporaries. The game has a compelling story that will leave the player feeling warm and fuzzy, while also being profound. Painting landscapes is so much fun and never feels tiring thanks to the number of things you can draw. And while the game may not be a hit with everyone, players looking for a unique experience or players who are a fan of indie games will love Concrete Genie. Grab a copy of the game and release your inner Picasso… or Banksy. One of them…

9/10

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