PlayStation is looking to end 2019 with a bang. With a series of hugely successful releases and possibly an even bigger one come November, some may not even know of this little gem called Concrete Genie. Can’t blame ’em. Since it was first revealed back in 2017, there hasn’t been too much news about the game until a couple of months ago when a release date was finally set, perfect by all accounts, in time for “Inktober”. By the time you read this, Concrete Genie will soon hit retailers at nearly half the price of a regular title and to help you make the unenviable decision of possibly spending money on the game, here’s our review of this PS4 exclusive!
Genies are almost always associated with magic. Whether it be a blue dude granting wishes or that KPop song from nearly a decade ago, Genies are usually considered to be something extraordinary. Enter Pixelopus. Known for their moderately rated game called Entwined from 2014, Pixelopus has been hard at work for the past few years to get this title out. We first got to try it out during E3 2018 and while the concept of it all was great, the execution left something to be desired. There was enough time to tidy it up into something ready to hit households by 2019 and the end result? Magical.
Paint my love
Concrete Genie starts out in the quaint little town of Denska, where the populace has been forced out due to a disastrous event, turning the once bustling community into a ghost town. The only source of creativity and hope in the town is from our protagonist that goes by the name of Ash, who is being bullied by a bunch of local kids. Ash keeps a sketchbook in hand, documenting thoughts and feelings and turning them into sketches that will soon spring to life, unbeknownst to him.
One time, the bullying goes too far and the sketchbook is ripped apart, spreading the pages across the town. Ash, determined to get them back, sets off on a journey across the town to an abandoned lighthouse where he will soon find his purpose, to harness his creativity as the tool that will bring life back to Denska.
It’s quite a premise, something straight out of a Disney or Pixar script. The artistic direction for the game is very distinct, with the character models looking like papercraft or claymation models brought to life. For a game that pushes the limits of creativity and imagination, it has to be said that the game looks stunning, especially when viewed on a 4K screen paired with a PS4 Pro. Viewing the town as is doesn’t do it justice but after literally painting the town red as the saying goes, it’s quite the sight to behold – a beautiful contrast between Ash, the dreary town, and your own personal neon light show.
I keep on mentioning something about “painting the town to life”. I’ll explain more about it in a bit but just to give you a sample of what you can actually achieve in game, check out these screens below:
With all the colors of the wind
Without diving too much into the details of the story to avoid spoilers, your main task as Ash is to paint sketches and murals across Denska. Armed with a magical paintbrush, you’ll need to find the various pages of your sketchbook to gain access to more designs. When you first start, you can only paint up a campfire, the sun and stars, and even a couple of trees and plants. Collect more pages and you’ll be able to create full fledged landscapes including rainbows, luminous plants, and even a winter wonderland. Want to paint the sun and moon side by side with the Northern lights surrounded by icicles and mushrooms? Hey, your call. As long as you can think it, you can paint it.
Painting is not as hard as it sounds. The controls are very intuitive and will require only a couple of minutes of practice before you get things down pat. You’ll control the cursor using the motion controls of your Dualshock, moving it around to paint in the direction you choose. It’s interesting that you can change the control to the right analog stick later in the game but the motion controls are more immersive, making it the control scheme of choice. The great thing about it? You don’t have to know jack about drawing or art to create wonderful pieces. Just let your imagination run wild and let the paintbrush surprise you!
Painting simply requires you to open your sketchbook, choose a design, and let the game do the work for you. You can paint a small patch of grass by dragging your controller a few paces to the left or right, or even a tall tree by taking the cursor to the top of the screen. Each design you draw then springs to life with such vibrant colors, creating an artwork you can call your own. There’s very little chance that you’ll get an end result that is an exact copy of another because the slightest variation in stroke and angle may change the final product. It’s a great touch that emphasizes personal creativity.
Each of Denska’s main areas are divided into zones which you’ll need to clear in order to move on to the next. As you explore the alleyways and sidestreets, you’ll come across “light strands” strewn across walls which you’ll have to paint over to get them to light up. For example, Zone 1 of the first area has 4 strands that you’ll have to paint over to gain access to zone 2 and opening up all zones will eventually lead you to create a “masterpiece” for that area, thus allowing you to progress. Some walls and surfaces will be covered in “darkness”, which requires super paint to remove as explained later on. It’s a simple core loop that isn’t too challenging. To be honest, the game is NOT challenging at all save for the last section which is radically different from what the game serves you for the most part.
Eye for detail
Apart from painting, you’ll be running around Denska to explore every nook and cranny for collectibles. Finding all of the pages of your sketchbook won’t take too long, in fact the whole game length will clock in at around 4-6 hours depending on how you go about it, while completionists aiming for the easy platinum will take you around 8 hours give or take to find everything. It’s an easy platinum by the way, so check out our trophy list to see what you may be missing (trophy descriptions contain spoilers).
You’ll also be painting to life these creatures called Genies, which will help you solve the many simple puzzles around the game. Genies, like your artwork, will also vary in design depending on the number of pages you pick up. Collecting more pages will allow you a multitude of choices for the various body parts, again ensuring that the genie that you create will be uniquely your own.
Speaking of making them your own, you’ll also be able to interact with them, creating a special connection between your genie and the murals you’ve painted. Create a campfire with an apple tree under the moon? Sit down and relax with your Genie while he takes a bite out of the apple. Want to give your Genie a scare? Bring some thunder and lightning in the mix. There are various interactions you can create with your Genie and the rest will be up to you to discover.
They’ll sometimes request a painting from you which you can oblige in exchange for some super paint. Super paint is a more powerful form of paint, allowing you to clear certain surfaces covered in darkness, something normal paint can’t do. Once cleared, you’ll be able to progress deeper into the story. Interacting with the Genies for a super paint refill is a nice way to break the monotony of simply finishing up the storyline.
The rest of the collectibles focus more on telling the story of Deska in an interactive manner. First are “billboards”, which contain guides on what to paint, so recreating them will be easy as long as you have the required design to complete the painting. Similarly, there are “moments”, which are sketches on the walls that will require Genies for you to decipher. Once you call a Genie to the area, they’ll provide a guide on what to paint, and like billboards, you’ll only be able to complete these with the required designs. Last of these collectibles are newspapers, which is another storytelling device that you simply pick up as you wander across the streets.
As you would expect from a beautiful game such as this, a photo mode is also available. With the usual bells and whistles like filters and other sliders, one thing fascinating about the photo mode is to take a short recording of your mural as you paint it, design by design. The short clip is basically a “live photo”, documenting your creation from start to finish, seeing your masterpiece unfold one flower and one tree after the other. It’s a great touch, and a perfect addition for what the feature wants to achieve for the game.
For PSVR users, there’s a short campaign that you can run through which will allow you to paint the world around you like you were Ash himself. The experience is not for everybody, as you may experience some feeling of dizziness due to all the vibrant colors and constant looking around but if you can handle that, you’ll be treated to some of the best VR experience that a game has to offer. While the campaign is short lived, you may access a VR free painting mode, which allows you to paint over various locales without any pressure. It’s basically a blank canvas and your stage to let your imagination run free.
Concrete Genie is very easy to dismiss as a kiddie game but surprisingly, it discusses some mature themes like self discovery, friendship, and bullying. It’s quite courageous for Pixelopus to even touch this, especially for something so sensitive, but Concrete Genie handles it perfectly without going overboard. Ash is a great representation of a kid resorting to other means of coping with bullying, in this case his art. Through his art, he is able to express himself in ways he could not do because of pressure from ourside sources, resulting in him creating a world for himself where he is free to believe and create something as simple as friends, in this case the Genies. It’s a touching story, one that some of the kids and even adults playing the game may be able to relate to in one form or the other. In the end, each experience is different, and Concrete Genie is the game that reminds us that as being different is not something to be afraid of, but rather something to be proud of because that is what makes each one of us a work of art.
What we liked:
- Painting controls are very intuitive and easy to master
- Creative storytelling and fantastic interactions
- PSVR mode is executed very well
What we didn’t like:
- Game length is a bit too short, with little incentive to go back and play for much longer
- Puzzles may be a bit too simple
Verdict: Buy it!
It’s really hard not to recommend this game. The price point is too tempting for such a great but rather short experience. Concrete Genie is a charming game that anyone can enjoy, be it by a kid or a kid at heart. Great titles do not require ultra realistic graphics nor complicated game mechanics and Concrete Genie simply proves that a little bit of imagination and creativity can go a very long way. This game is certainly not for everybody, especially if you’re looking for more action oriented games. Concrete Genie is quite an experience that deals with some social issues in a unique manner, something I personally liked and you could as well if you give it a chance.
Want to know how good the game is? Shuhei Yoshida himself has his calling card designed with a Concrete Genie backdrop.
*The game was reviewed on a PS4 Pro through a review code provided by the publisher.