It's up to Ash to save the world... creatively!
Concrete Genie is an indie game but not, the second title from Sony first-party studio PixelOpus. A follow-up from Entwined, this new release has a lot of similarities to PixelOpus’ debut release whilst at the same time showing the studio’s tremendous growth.
Concrete Genie stars a young artist named Ash; a reserved young man who’s most comfortable throwing down sketches in his journal. While he’s from a loving family who will do whatever they can do ensure Ash’s success, despite the short-term cost — we first come upon the boy as he’s reading a note from his parents that states they’re working back and he should eat without them — he doesn’t seem to have a lot of friends. In fact, he mostly has enemies; the opening sequence features the group of children who bully him relentlessly.
Ash’s hometown of Denska used to be brimming with joy, light and vibrancy, but in recent times has succumbed to a purple mould that seems to be strangling all life from the area. Hearing of a rumoured lighthouse ghost, the bullies force Ash to the area expecting him to meet his end; instead, Ash finds Luna, the leader of the titular genies that feature so heavily in gameplay.
Arming Ash with a gigantic paintbrush, Ash’s mission is relatively simple: navigate through Denska, using the magic artist’s tool to relight the world (literally, as Ash uses his brush to relight strings of lightbulbs that populate each area) and fight back the mould-like decay threatening to claim the city entirely. To do this, Ash must collect pages from his notebook which were strewn throughout Denska as a result of his bullies. Each collected page represents a thing Ash can then paint — a vibrant sun, twinkling stars, lushious strands of grass and so on.
As Ash repaints the world, he’ll run into obstacles that block his way. To combat those obstacles, he’ll need to create and call upon genies to assist. Finding an old bit of graffiti that Ash himself once painted in Denska, each genie provides the opportunity to be creative. When activated, Ash can choose a genie’s body, appendages, wearables and more to create a unique being. The genies have a life of their own, asking Ash to use his magic brush to paint items of their choosing on the surfaces of Denska. Please they genies and they’ll aid him in his quest, burning tarps, activating electrical boxes and controlling the wind to Ash can progress. Pleasing the genies also grants Ash super paint, necessary to clear mould-like graffiti that blocks the normal brush’s work.
That’s mostly it; Ash has a map that shows the various areas of Denska, each separated into various zones that need clearing. Those bullies that plagued Ash at the beginning remain throughout proceedings, grabbing his brush and flinging it onto hard-to-reach rooftops (Ash is almost Assassin’s Creed-like acrobatic, so not to worry) or stuffing him into a nearby dumpster if they catch him. That’s the gameplay loop; avoid bullies, light lightbulbs and solve puzzles to get genies to help you progress.
Leaving it at that though would be doing a disservice to Concrete Genie. Like Entwined before it, the game is truly beautiful, colourful and alive, especially as you reanimate the failing Denska. At the same time, a wonderful story involving the bullies takes shape, as entertaining for an adult as it would be informative to children.
This is all isn’t to say that Concrete Genie is without its failings; I thought I was forced into motion-controlled painting mechanics until a tooltip about an hour in that told me I could get rid of the novelty altogether and simply change controls to use thumbsticks to get Ash’s job done; I did, and I don’t regret it. Concrete Genie also supports PlayStation VR and I wholly chose to ignore that as I despise strapping bits to my person and flailing my arms around randomly.
Despite the gimmicks, Concrete Genie is beautiful, endearing, charming and simply adorable. It’s far more fleshed out (and lenghty, though still over overly long) than Entwined. At a $40 AUD price tag, you simply can’t go wrong; it’s extremely relaxing after a stressful day.
Concrete Genie was reviewed using a promotional code on PS4, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.