Modify The World
The gimmick behind Semblance’s entire 2D platforming gameplay is the ability to transform specific parts of the environment to solve environmental puzzles. Playing as a squishy blob, the player can reach new heights by hitting a malleable platform from underneath, or can essentially dig a hole by butt-stomping it. This blob can also dash jump and eventually transform his shape to become tall and thin or short and fat jump more vertically or horizontally. All this is done to remove this invading crystal stuff from the blob’s homeland by collecting hard to reach orbs.
These game design mechanics control well and are solid decisions but it feels like the overall level design doesn’t play to these strengths. This is a not a twitch platformer but instead each stage is designed to tease the brain of those playing. Hazards like the colored crystals that cause insta-kills, lasers that must be reflected to different directions, and occasional dash jumping often cause more frustration than entertainment. Some puzzles are painfully easy but many have no clear answer as the game just wants you to experiment with the moveset until you just so happen to get it right. Honestly, the more Semblance I played, the more I hated it as it made me feel dumb, instead of entertained, for not knowing how to solve the specifically designed tedious puzzles.
Manipulating platforms is simple enough but often isn’t as accurate as you might want it to be. For example, if you make a plateau off center, the player can only reset the entire structure by hitting the A button instead of adjusting what is already done. Further, the player can only change very specific parts of the environment, keeping puzzle solving focused on the hazard the designers want you to overcome. For a game with such a cool mechanic and reactive controls, putting massive limitations on the coolest abilities is terribly restrictive and disappointing.
Visually, Semblance looks like Limbo only with solid pastel colors. What starts off as interesting quickly becomes repetitive as the land never really changes. The game only takes a couple hours to complete and there is no punishment for dying; the player just respawns a few feet away when the insta-deaths happen. Also, the player can just fly through each of the four worlds while collecting minimal orbs and there isn’t any large payoff for getting them all other than wasting a tedious amount of time. Worse yet, there is only one save file. If the player wants to start over, the entire game resets to the very beginning and no quick way to navigate the large hub world to backtrack for orbs that were not collected.
There are some interesting things happening in Semblence but all of them fall short from being something great. While it is not overly terrible, there are better platformers more worthy of your time.