Although Journey of the Broken Circle has simple but compelling gameplay, a soft color palette that is always pleasing, and a memorable bitter-sweet emotional story, its main focus is on its message that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Even though the player is controlling a Pac-Man shaped circle through physics-based platforming challenges, the overall message, life lessons, and emotional acknowledgment is where the focus is placed and becomes all the better for it. This is a game with a message.
This is a 2D narrative-driven puzzle platformer about an incomplete circle trying to become whole. As the player rolls through unique environments that are often filled with hazards, the circle will encounter other beings with special traits used to fill his empty self. The stick allows the player to attach to walls to reach new heights. The thorny weed grants the ability to roll around walls and ceiling tiles like Samus’ spiderball from Metroid II. There is even a time when a balloon fills the circle’s gap and soars through the clouds and can catch wind. Although these characters are introduced for varied gameplay, the real reason why they are there is metaphorical.
You see, when each character comes and goes, Circle starts to second guess himself, become lonely, and even gets a little depressed, wondering if he will ever be whole again. Even with the small amount of a dialog present throughout the campaign, I couldn’t help but feel for this tiny little circle. This game is ultimately about confronting and trying to stay positive when faced against depression, anxiety, and fear – emotions many people face on a daily basis, especially in the current climate that is 2020. It also addresses existentialism, something very few games acknowledge.
When the game’s “hang in there, life isn’t so bad” messaging isn’t pulling at your heartstrings, the player must overcome platforming challenges. For the most part, reaching that next checkpoint is usually met with little difficulty although there are moments of brief frustration. The section where the game reverses the controls is more annoying that entertaining, and there are some tedious sequences in the final few chapters, but even with this cumbersome elements, the 2-3 hour quest is pleasant and enjoyable. There is even some replayablity in the form of collecting hidden mushrooms scattered throughout each stage. Collecting them unlocks new stages, a worthwhile reward. The soundtrack has also been developed with care, with a few tracks that are hauntingly good.
Journey of the Broken Circle is labeled as a narrative platformer but it is perhaps better described as an emotional experience with a message that just so happens to be placed within a game. This digital download has meaning because it is trying to say something and it deeply succeeds. If it was released without the narrative, it would have been an average platformer at best. It is the story, and how it directly acts as a dedicated companion to the gameplay, that really shines. There are plenty of games that focus on narrative but this game makes you feel frighteningly human despite playing as a broken circle.