From time to time, SideQuesting’s Editors like to head back into gaming’s vaults to take another look at a game from a fresh perspective, or even the first time through an experience. Today, Tylor takes us through 2019’s Concrete Genie from Pixelopus.
Concrete Genie is a colourful journey throughout a wholesome tale of forgiveness, developed by Sony’s first party studio Pixelopus. This story is filled with whimsical characters, intriguing mystery, and lighthearted gameplay. This may be a simple action platformer, but the unique painting mechanic adds enough to set it apart from others in the genre.
There’s not much of a challenge, but Concrete Genie effectively beckons your creativity and stimulates your imagination as you coat the city in vibrant murals and spirited portraits. The game is delightful, concise, and knows not to overstay its welcome, but could use more focus on what makes the experience gratifying – creation.
In Concrete Genie you play as Ash – a young artist who frequently falls victim to neighbourhood bullies, but copes by using art as an escape. That “escape” soon becomes tangible and palpable because early on Ash comes in possession of a magic paint brush which grants him various skills, including the ability to paint murals that literally come to life; this eventually serves as a tool for various environmental puzzles. The setting takes place in the fictional, dying town of Denska – buildings are depressingly dull, oil spills pollute the waters, and the population is rapidly emigrating. Ash yearns to revive Denska through decorative street art, and it’s up to the player to carry out that task. Ash eventually learns that even his bullies suffer the trauma which comes with living in Denska, and while working to save the city he begins to empathize with them. Pixelopus does a fantastic job showing the humanity in those who have wronged others, and characterizing the potential of people changing for the better. Furthermore, Ash’s artwork serves as the catalyst for that.
Painting in Concrete Genie is a genuinely clever mechanic. As someone who has not one artistic bone in his body, I can assure you that your ability to create picturesque street art is bolstered brilliantly here. The brush strokes are beautifully animated – trees will sprout leaves as you draw them, butterflies flap their wings across the mural, and the northern lights gleam radiantly. Music correlates with each brush stroke and pleasantly overlays with the soundtrack, making you part of the score. You collect pages of designs throughout the world to widen your index, and each design can then be spread across the dwindling buildings of Denska, making the world your own. Creating an entire work of art from scratch is completed with absolute ease, and I’ll inevitably be going back to do more of that. While this mechanic is primarily used to solve some simple environmental puzzles throughout the story, it’s satisfying enough to encourage you to redecorate Denska from head to toe, which you’re entirely free to do. Unfortunately, the best of this experience is arbitrary, as there’s no adequate incentive for you to engage with it in the main game.
The brilliance of painting is underused and replaced by more familiar – yet monotonous – combat and action platforming. Movement is stiff, especially when climbing, and doesn’t feel enjoyable enough to justify the various platforming sections. Those sections make up a great deal of the overall experience, and they detract from much of the enjoyment of playing the game. Eventually this improves when you unlock the “paint skating” ability, which allows you to glide across the ground with impressively fluid motion, and it’s admittedly quite fun. Even so, that ability is unlocked a bit too late in the game for my taste, and is disappointingly under-utilized as well. Combat also comes up sparingly, and it’s very uncomplicated but quite fun, especially when you use a few elemental attacks with the magic paintbrush.. These moments feel more like padding to fill out the experience, rather than encouraging the player to partake in what the game does best.
Concrete Genie is a culmination of mediocre filler that is ultimately linking together some ingeniously unique ideas. The artwork is oozing with charm and style with the claymation-like characters and the vivid murals you interact with throughout the world. While the frustrating platforming sections hold it back in some ways, the touching story of overcoming personal hardships make it worth seeing through. I can’t give enough praise to the excellent painting, which could make any average person feel like Basquiat. Whether you’re just playing by yourself, or sharing the experience with family, Concrete Genie certainly deserves your attention, whether or not you’re the creative type.
This review of the game is based on a retail copy purchased by the Editor