Big Boss Battle — September 12, 2018

Nyamakop's puzzle/platformer keeps the genre fresh with innovation and poise

by Robert Middleton

Semblance ⎯ far more than meets the eye

Nyamakop's puzzle/platformer keeps the genre fresh with innovation and poise

“The outward appearance or apparent form of something, especially when the reality is different.”  The dictionary definition of semblance could not map more perfectly onto everything Semblance is.

Easy to mistake as a run-of-the-mill platformer, Nyamakop’s Semblance nails the almost impossible task of standing out in a sea of indie platformers by being something far different and far more than a basic addition to the genre.

The game’s innovation and nuance are not found in its premise. The world is infected and you ⎯⎯ a literal blob ⎯⎯ have to cure it by solving puzzles to reach collectable orbs in set locations, armed with nothing but a quick dash, a reset function, and video games’ most malleable physique.

Semblance busywork

It’s not just your body you can shape, the world around you can be bent ⎯⎯ literally and figuratively ⎯⎯ to your will. Semblance takes the platforms from platformers and gives it to you to control. It’s such a simple idea but, when going back to restart the game, you can’t believe you were ever without it. The platform too low to reach a target? Headbutt it until it’s high enough. Impassable sea of knives between you and progress? Slingshot yourself to the other side using a literal wall.

Semblance offers you virtually no guidance on how to do any of this. There are instructions to show you how your dash works and how your reset works, and then you are cast away to work the game out yourself. It is a risk, absolutely. In less well-designed games this could be a sticking point, but Semblance drip feeds you just enough information at just the right time. It tempts you into doing one thing, which reveals a new effect you can use to solve the next puzzle.

Similarly with environmental and personal modifiers — like beams of light that reset your alterations, or walls that let you alter the shape of your body to change how far you can jump — you are not told what they do. Instead, Semblance lets you work it out for yourself, giving a kind of respect to the player that less confident games might not.

Semblance Red is bad

And you will need to remember every trick you have learnt, and every combination of effects possible to get past Semblance’s tougher challenges. The game’s best trick is presenting puzzles that immediately look solvable but only through attempting the most obvious options do they reveal their complexity. You are never frustrated or accusing the game of being deliberately obtuse. The solution always feels a small step away, and it, invariably, is.

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