There has been a flood of side-scrolling video games to hit the market in the past few years. Independent studios are flourishing across many platforms and reviving this beloved genre along the way. Nyamakop Studio is one such rag tag group of developers. The five person team is based in Africa and met in college where they put together an early build of Semblance as a final year university project at the University of Witwatersrand. With the help of Good Shepherd Entertainment, the team is bringing their first game to PC, Mac and Nintendo Switch.
Semblance is a minimal platform puzzle game with brilliant gameplay mechanics accompanied by a peaceful serene world. The game takes inspiration from many platformer titles of the past, but really brings a new take to the genre.
Beautiful Minimal Design
The level design in Semblance is outstanding. Nyamakop intertwine the player and each screen's design into a toolset required to solve each puzzle. The game doesn't hold your hand at all as players learn a set of systems that all work together to force them to solve a diverse array of problems thrown at them. There is a super minimal tutorial built into the first level, and there is a delightful element of discovery and exploration that occurs as you play through each scene, and world.
Semblance encourages players to explore the world in a non-linear fashion. Eventually players must gather all the pink orbs to complete the world, but they can do it in whatever order they feel like. This is a great way to deal with rage-quitters like myself. Instead of smashing my Nintendo Switch with a rock when I got stuck on a specific pink orb, I would move to another part of the world. The game also doesn't penalize death, which is a good thing as players will die a bunch trying to solve later puzzles.
The first three worlds are a series of puzzles that introduce new gameplay mechanics while the fourth and final world puts them all together in a true platformer test. It is going to be very interesting to see how speedrunners take to Semblance, as I think there will be some intriguing ways to complete the game as fast as possible.
Purple Perfect Puzzle Platformer Protagonist
Squish is a gelatinous blob that players control on screen. He makes some noises, but there is no dialogue and he is certainly a voiceless hero. Squish is born from the world of Semblance and his main goal is too remove all that is hard from their squishy land. Squish is able to dash as a special move, and can also shape the level around him. Early on, deformation of levels focuses on making a platform higher, or setting up a wall with indentations for wall-jumping.
Squish's journey gets more and more complicated as he navigates his way through three forests. Each world introduces a new gameplay mechanic. Strategically placed lasers that reset deformations throw a nice wrinkle into solving quite a few puzzles later in the game. Another interesting gameplay feature is the ability of Squish to smash into hard objects to change his shape. This leads to intricate puzzles that involve changing shape from tall and skinny to short and flat to get through the level. Players will have to fashion trampolines, create shelters from lasers, and deform Squish to solve the many puzzles in Semblance.
Save the Trees
Semblance was a game that I had trouble putting down, and then I would get stuck and throw my Switch down in anger. Nyamakop made me feel dumb multiple times after figuring out a puzzle that I was stuck on had an obvious solution in retrospect. Many great puzzle games have to be frustrating at times, and Semblance does just that. There were times where I had to sleep on a puzzle and then come back at it with a fresh take. Other times I would just keep trying different combinations of deformations until something would click. It is those eureka moments that make Semblance such an excellent gaming experience. The entire time I played through the game, I felt motivated to clear the forest of these evil crystals. I was left wanting more at the end of my time in the forest.
Semblance goes beyond the puzzle genre and adds their own special take on platform games. The game's art and music direction create a peaceful world that is both full of beauty and rage-inducing wonder. The team at Nyamakop should be proud of their first project which is the first video game developed in Africa to be released on a Nintendo console. Players who take a chance on Semblance will be met with a challenging puzzle platformer with excellent level design and art style.
This review is based on a download code provided by the publisher. Semblance is available now, for $9.99. The game is rated E for everyone.
- Innovative Platforming
- Challenging Puzzles
- Creative Gameplay
- Masterful Level Design
- Launching on Switch
- Made me feel dumb
- No Video Share Support on Switch
Asif Khan posted a new article, Semblance Review: Dat Good Good
Bump, for a great game.