Review: Concrete Genius

After four and a half years in development, Concrete Genie finally appears. The game immediately impresses with the distinct art style and luminous visuals that you will encounter a lot in your journey as a young artist.

Concrete Genie was developed by Pixelopus in collaboration with Sony. The game is very similar to games like Flower in some aspects. It is therefore not an intense action game although there is combat in it. This is a soothing game with a story.

Story

Concrete Genie puts you as a player in the shoes of Ash, a young artist who wants to restore the beauty of his city. As you do this you will be on a psychological journey with themes such as bullying and trauma. You will therefore have to defend yourself against the bullies who will constantly be after Ash. The paint in the game therefore works as a metaphor in many places. Where the bullies pollute and darken the city, you will brighten things up with your powers and creative impulses.

Ash is a withdrawn boy. He seems difficult to make contact with peers, who are also after him. That is why he withdraws into his sketchbook in which he draws all kinds of creatures. When the bullies take his sketchbook and rip the pages out, your journey to restore the sketchbook begins. During that trip you will also bring the environment back to life.
When you set out to collect the pages, you soon encounter a genius. A genius is a creature that has come to life from a work of art. The genius soon asks you to paint a colorful environment for him. The genies will do this more often. If you fulfill their wish, you unlock collectibles or save super paint powers.

Gameplay

The painting is therefore the primary mechanic of the game. You can choose to control your brush with motion controls or the control sticks. The game can also be played in VR. You can choose from different stencils, including grass or rain. These stencils will all have their own effect. If you paint an apple, the genies will eat it. When you're building a campfire, the genies will often take a moment to warm up by the fire. This provides a simple mechanic that has a lot of effect on the environment and therefore actually gives it a living feeling. Before you know it, you'll be looking around to see a world of color.
While the stencils might be a bit disappointing for players who possess artistic talents, this mechanic makes Concrete Genie accessible to those of us who don't possess these talents. The lack of creative talents is therefore no reason to pass up Concrete Genie.
Because you will actually see your works of art again, that often gives the motivation to make something really beautiful out of it. It's not an intrusive command. As you find more pages, you will be able to create more diverse works of art.
The genies that you will always bring to life are also becoming more and more diverse. This ensures that you will really look for the collectibles. If you collect a new page, you can sometimes give the genies a new tail or a set of ears. Or of course a single ear. That's entirely up to you here.
Because you have a lot of interaction with the genies, it is a lot of fun to make them as separate as possible. You'll eventually be able to choose from cat or dragon-like genies, to genies that look more like a cloud or squid. The genies will therefore have distinct personalities based on how you portray them.

Concrete Genie picks up slowly and will not introduce you to the combat in the first part. That's really not a bad thing considering the combat plays in a typical action game way and is far from the most interesting aspect in the game. You will be most occupied with running, climbing and of course the artwork. The combat that occurs later in the game is not nearly as challenging as hoped. The game seems to be aimed at a more casual audience.
Those who can condone the lack of challenge and the repetitive mechanics will be immersed in a story that is told almost entirely through visuals.

Visuals

The charm and true power of Concrete Genie is really in the visuals. During your journey you will have to restore the city by turning the lights back on. You do this by decorating nearby walls. This ultimately creates incredibly impressive luminous environments in which the genies will do something special on almost every wall. In addition to the artworks, the characters and the city you are in also have a charm that we rarely see in games.
Although there are 2 VR modes for the game, we have not been able to test them.

Conclusion

Concrete Genie provides a unique experience with impressive visuals and art-driven storytelling. The first part of the game plays much quieter than the second part, when the combat makes its entrance and the tension increases. This really creates a sense of progression in which your powers will increase and your bond with the genies will grow stronger. Without too much talking in the game, you will feel involved.
The unique story that focuses on empathy, self expression and self discovery provides an inspiring message. This is definitely a good game.
While Concrete Genie isn't very long, there's still plenty to do in the game. Even after completing the game you will be able to keep collecting a whole bunch of collectibles. They really aren't worthless collectibles. These often consist of concept art pieces or extra pages, with new genies or features for genies from Ash's sketchbook.


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