Concrete Genie from PixelOpus has been a mainstay of various Sony events and presentations since the game was first announced at the 2017 Paris Games Week. With how often Sony has shown off the game, it’s clear the company believes in the PS4 exclusive it’s going to deliver. And despite being only the second game from studio PixelOpus, Concrete Genie delivers a compelling, if short, adventure that’s engaging from start to finish.
PixelOpus’ first game was Entwined, which was surprise launched on the same day as Sony’s E3 2014 press conference and received mixed reviews for being a case of style over substance. With Concrete Genie, PixelOpus clearly takes that criticism to heart, delivering a game that’s still heavy on style, but with more compelling gameplay to keep players hooked. Think of any of the big “arsy” games released on the PlayStation in recent years, like Flower or Journey, except with more meat on the bone, and that’s the concept behind Concrete Genie.
While the gameplay is more important in Concrete Genie than similar games, the art style is still easily the best thing about it. It is set in an abandoned port town called Denska, whose economy has been devastated by an oil spill and is now plagued by a dark supernatural presence. As one can imagine, Denska looks a bit depressing, projecting bright and colorful paintings that the player character Ash pours across the city. The contrast between light and dark colors is striking, though it’s not the only thing that stands out when it comes to Concrete Genie’s art style.
Another thing that players may notice is that the human characters in the game appear to be animated using stop-motion animation techniques. Honestly, they look like characters who would be right at home in the old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer Christmas special. And seeing them walking around the mean streets of Denska is quite interesting from a visual point of view.
The main character in Concrete Genie is a boy named Ash, who grew up in Denska and now returns there to sketch it as he remembers it. Unfortunately, the place became a favorite haunt of some bullies, who wanted to torment Ash for his artwork. The game deals with bullying in an almost realistic way and has a great message for kids, but it’s a story that can be just as easily enjoyed by adults.
Concrete Genie’s story is full of emotional moments that are enhanced by the game’s wonderful soundtrack. The music is on point, and this is another area where Concrete Genie really shines. The sad music makes exploring Denska’s abandoned streets extra depressing, but also relaxing. This isn’t a game where players shoot everything in sight or face apocalyptic threats, and the music score perfectly matches the game’s laid-back atmosphere.
As for Concrete Genie, its gameplay is probably the most similar to the Jet Set Radio games. Players explore an open area and paint things on the walls using the magic paintbrush that Ash acquired early on. The main objective is to restore light to the various districts of Denska by painting the walls near the strands of light bulbs, where players can usually progress to the next area after lighting all the bulbs . It sounds boring on paper, but as mentioned earlier, it’s actually a more relaxing experience, and there’s more to it than painting one wall after another.
Concrete Genie’s levels feature Zelda-esque puzzles for players to solve, often with the help of titular Genies that they can create. Players are free to paint their Genies however they want, but they always fall into one of three categories. For example, red Genies can burn things, while yellow Genies can electrify things. These abilities are used in puzzles to open doors or overcome obstacles, though sometimes players have to appease their Genies first by painting specific objects for them.
Players can paint a wide variety of objects in Concrete Genie, provided they collect the corresponding page in Ash’s sketchbook. Another thing players will do in the game is to find pages from the sketchbook, which are torn out and scattered in the air by the bullies. There is some platforming involved when chasing the pages, especially the ones running away from Ash, which adds an extra wrinkle to the gameplay.
Concrete Genie doesn’t break any ground with its gameplay, but what it does does well, albeit with some weak points. Genies will occasionally take a long time to complete certain actions and sometimes players miss a light bulb they need to light, which can be frustrating. The DualShock 4 motion controls also add nothing to the experience and aren’t ideal for paintings that require a bit of precision, but this can be avoided by using the right analog stick instead. These are minor complaints, however, and overall players will enjoy their time with Concrete Genie more than they don’t.
There is one aspect of the game that weighs down the experience more than the other problems, and that is the combat. Fortunately, Combat in Concrete Genie isn’t a huge focus of the game, but what there is is dull, repetitive, and unnecessary. Players fight bosses that are all functionally similar, requiring zero strategy to defeat but with health bars that are too long, so players usually just have to button mash until they are defeated . Anyone looking for a great video game boss fight will definitely not find it in Concrete Genie.
Thankfully, the combat in Concrete Genie isn’t much of a focus. Players spend most of the game painting walls, avoiding threats, and solving puzzles. Some of the established mechanics are turned on their heads later in the game as well in a way that we know is borderline genius, but we won’t go into details to avoid spoilers.
Players can easily finish Concrete Genie in under five hours, and it probably won’t take much longer than that to get all the trophies. There are a few extra modes to check out, like Free Paint and a brief PlayStation VR experience that’s a fun mess, but don’t add a ton of long-term value. While the short length will be a deal-breaker for some, we’d argue that Concrete Genie is better off for being on the shorter side, as it doesn’t overstay its welcome or tip its gameplay off pointlessly. -wasting time to artificially prolong the experience as other games tend to do. Everything is laser-focused and all the fat is trimmed so the pacing in Concrete Genie is perfect.
Concrete Genie was the most nominated game at Gamescom, and it’s easy to see why. There are certain aspects of the game that detract a bit from the experience, but it’s a successful adventure game that succeeds in delivering an emotional story in a gorgeous world. PixelOpus has done a great job with its sophomore effort and it will be exciting to see what comes next from the studio.
Concrete Genie launches on October 8, exclusively for PS4. Today Technology was provided with a PS4 code for this review.