Developed by: PixelOpus
Published by: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Reviewed On: PS4PRO
Concrete Genie was first announced during Paris Games Week 2017 at the PlayStation Media Showcase. It is difficult to watch that reveal and not be more curious about what this game is and although it did suffer a slight delay, almost two years after that initial reveal Concrete Genie is finally coming out. We were fortunate enough to secure an early review copy so without further ado let me try and paint a masterpiece for you.
What A Day!
Concrete Genie is about a boy named Ash who despite his parent’s disapproval reminisces about the town of Denska and how it used to be like. The town once brimming with life is now abandoned because of an incident and now looking like a shadow of its former self, dark and dreary with a mysterious substance slowly enveloping it. Ash spends his time sketching in his notebook, drawing all sorts of things that his imagination conjures up. Unfortunately for him, he is not the only one in Denska as there is a group of children who vandalizes the town and bullies Ash whenever they cross paths with him. One day they took things too far and they rip his sketchbook dispersing the pages all over the town carried by the wind.
In the pursuit of those pages, Ash stumbles upon something magical that brought out one of his creations; Luna, to life. Luna imbues a paintbrush and entrusts Ash to replace the gloom in Denska with light and art, bringing it back to life. Ash then sets off gathering page after page of his creations that help give him new ideas for his artistic creations to push the darkness away from Denska. Along the way, Ash will also come across newspaper clippings that take him (and players) down memory lane on the chain of events that affected the town the way it did.
The story in Concrete Genie starts off simple and light but towards the end of the game managed to paint a charming picture that felt heart-warming. There are a lot of underlying themes in the game that deals with the innocence and wonder of being a kid and being so hopeful as opposed to growing up and losing that sometimes quite easily. The damage we do to one another might seem so small, but it festers and grows into something more because we don’t deal with things as well as we should. I do still wish there was more meat to the game story-wise but what was there was effectively told.
His First Masterpiece
The graphics in Concrete genie are quite beautiful for a AA title. At first, the town of Denska looks colourless but the more you get to paint and fill up the streets with your artistic creations the brighter the game became. The amazing use of colour in every creation and environment really added to make the player (even if just for a small bit) feel like an artist. The lighting was great and even the reflections on wet surfaces were outstanding. The particle effects were also quite a sight to behold even if they did not feature too often. The animation of Ash, the other kids and even the genies were well done. Picture quality was crisp and was upscaled to 4K utilizing the power of the PS4Pro although I felt that the game did not run as smoothly as it should have.
Especially at the start of the game, I encountered a few slight moments where the game was ever so slightly chugging along even when nothing was really going on. I do understand that it is probably just optimization issues which I hope are resolved at launch or sometime soon after. It can be particularly odd especially when it runs smoothly later in the game even when more things are happening but otherwise graphically the game impressed quite a bit. The accompanying music was also notably pleasant bringing necessary emotion to some scenes that really needed it.
Turning the Tide
The gameplay in Concrete Genie is straightforward. Ash with the help of his magical brush, must go all over Denska to bring the dreary environments back to life. To do that he has to turn on magic lights by painting on walls and the side of buildings. Players will start on the first page with a limited number of designs to choose from but along the way are able to collect the missing pages that were scattered. These pages unlock new designs that Ash can paint on walls. Another ability that Ash can do is also to bring Genies to life at special predetermined places. There are three variations of Genies which correspond to the Fire, Electric and Wind elements.
These genies will help Ash get past obstacles he can’t on his own with the condition he watches and paints what they ask for. This makes them happy and fills his paintbrush with Super Paint. Super Paint is used to paint over walls that are deeply tainted by the Darkness that plagues Denska. There is a limited amount of Super Paint to use at any given time but thankfully the game is generous with refills as players only need to make the genies happy and they will refill your meter for you.
After lighting all the zones at each section of Denska, Ash will then be given an opportunity to cleanse the section by painting a Masterpiece with the help of his genies. Players can add on and even paint to their heart’s content before completing the task and serves as kind of a bookend to all the art you have learned to paint thus far. There are three main parts of the town to brighten up and all three follow the same structure with a few variations depending on the element that is an obstacle for Ash. Along the way, there are moments where Ash has to carefully avoid the bullies that might get in his way.
Back to Life
Then the second part of the game happened which I welcomed quite happily. An event happened which opened the gameplay to a new variation that involved the genies. Honestly, I kind of want people who pick this game up to go in blind and experience the same feeling I did when I came to this part of the game but I guess I still have to talk about it because this is a review and I can’t just say I really liked it and not tell you why so just be advised there are spoilers after the next picture.
[START OF SPOILERS] At this point I really was coming to terms with the way the game was small and charming with a simple gameplay goal in mind but then the lovable genies that have been helping me this whole time went rogue. That’s right, the game actually managed to take a darker tone which I quite appreciated (my wife can attest to how much more interested I become when important characters die or turn into an irredeemable villain) because I felt that the game played it charmingly safe before that point. So, then the gameplay switches up and instead of painting, the player is now tasked with hunting the rogue genies down! Also, I get to skate now and shoot paint at the evil genies! The bullies help too! It really was something! It changed up the gameplay when it needed to and managed to weave in emotional trauma that kids are subjected to which they may or may not even understand how to deal with yet. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last very long and you finish the game soon after. [END SPOILERS]
What I Really Liked
- Story – I really like how it was a small and contained story but managed to delve deeper into issues kids must deal with.
- Music – Charming and quaint in the right quantities
- Tone & Aesthetics – I really dug the whole tone the game was going for and for some reason it was really reminding me of Psychonauts. Maybe I just really miss that game.
What I REALLY Wanted More of
- Everything – Honestly, I really do. I enjoyed finding pages off the main path, the climbing, the puzzles, the genies, the changed gameplay towards the end of the game but it all really felt like it was a tease.
Concrete Genie managed to surprise me by how charming it ended up being. At first, I thought the genies might be awkward, but they ended up really growing on me with the subtle details that were included in them. They are like pets that surprise you constantly with the things they do. I also appreciated the story and how well it was handled especially with sensitive topics. I really was taken by surprise with the change in gameplay in the last half of the game, but it really did highlight a glaring problem I had with the game with wanting more out of the game. I do think that at the price point the game is launching at players will be getting their money’s worth with 6-8 hours of content but I also want to be selfish in hoping people do give this game a chance so that someday we get a full-fledged sequel that really expands greatly on the potential this game teased.