Right from the moment I started Pixelopus' Concrete Genie, I knew I was in for something wonderful. The game dazzles with its delightful use of colour and gorgeous art design, leading to a game that feels like it was made by a real team of humans with hearts and souls to match. It's not often I play a title that feels like the key ingredient in its development is love, but that was my prevailing thought during my time with with the game.
Concrete Genie sees you in the role of Ash. He's a bit of a recluse and has a hard time dealing with the bullies in his dreary and oppressive hometown, Denska. His only friends are the sketches in his notebook that come to life. If you were ever a child ( I assume at least half of you were), this game will tug at your heartstrings in all of the right ways.
Following some story setup, Ash discovers a magical paintbrush that brings his drawings to life. These creations are the star of the show and look amazing with their designs torn straight out of a kids sketchbook. It's incredible just how much life Pixelopus has squeezed into these 2D paintings. When your journey begins, the world is awash in drab tones and darkness, but once you put brush to brick, the wold is bathed in stunning art, adding light to the dark and colour to the bleakness.
The game immediately grabbed my attention with its heartwarming story and beautiful art design, with visuals that look like Pixar by way of Tim Burton. Character faces are animated similarly to the film Coraline, which gives it even more of a beautiful story-book vibe. I was genuinely shocked at just how impressive the game looks and runs. It's all just so cute and polished.
My wife and I have been having the whole 'kids' discussion a lot lately, and we're still on the fence. Playing Concrete Genie made me wish I had a little one sat next to me to experience it with. If you're a parent and are wanting something great for you to play with your kid, Concrete Genie is both fun to play and has a story with a strong message. As things unfold, Ash discovers things about the bullies that humanises them and shows significant events in their lives that have put them on their troubled paths. These moments are heartbreaking, but they do a fantastic job of showing kids that everyone is battling their own internal struggles and that when they're nasty, it's never really about you. It's a super important message for the younger generation and is one I wish I had learned much earlier in life.
When it comes to the gameplay, Concrete Genie feels excellent. Painting the bleak town with your neon living paint is done with the gyro of the DualShock controller and feels smooth and straightforward. It's incredible how easy it is to make beautiful art in the game, and I can see a younger audience having a great time doing nothing but painting. You can change the controls to allow you to paint with the thumbstick instead, but you would be missing out by doing so. From the painting menu, you select from a pallet of different sketches like grass, butterflies, flowers, and so on. Each wall in the town presents a blank canvas, and your art persists throughout the journey. This leads to the town looking incredible as your vivid creations bring much-needed life to Denska. As you paint, each design is accompanied by a musical sound which further adds to the already lovely soundtrack.
Occasionally you'll have to summon one of your genies to clear the path for you to progress. You use your fire genie to burn obstacles in your way or the electric genie to unlock doors. Thanks to your ability to create your own genie, you'll find yourself getting surprisingly attached to the 2D creations. Once you've created a genie, you can make them happy by painting things they request or interacting with them at certain moments. When you please a genie, they'll give Ash super paint which is needed to clear the darkness blocking you from painting.
While painting the world back to life, you'll also come across a group of bullies. If they're blocking your way, you can lure them away with a yell, clearing your path to sneak past them. If they catch up with you, the game simply reloads, and you can try again with little to no consequence.
Towards the end of the game, things change up a bit, and some light combat is added to the mix. You also unlock paint skating which feels like a power ripped straight out of Infamous, in fact, I couldn't help but think that Concrete Genie feels quite a bit like 'My First Infamous' or 'Infamous Junior Edition'. I won't go into this part of the game any more as it feels like a bit of a spoiler and only really represents a fairly small section of the game.
While I do think Concrete Genie is an excellent game for the younger audience, I can't finish this review without speaking on the game's length. I managed to work my way through the story in one five hour sitting and couldn't help but wish there was more to do. When the game introduced combat and the paint skating, I thought it was great, but it was over before I even had a chance to enjoy it properly. I think it says a lot about the game that I would have happily doubled my playtime if the content was there. I can see kids getting a lot more mileage out of it as they'll likely obsess over painting every wall in town.
I can't recommend it highly enough for young gamers. From its endearing message of acceptance and understanding, to the stunning art style and animation, Pixelopus has crafted a very special little game. Concrete Genie feels like it was made by a studio that has found their identity and hit their grove. I can't wait to see what they do next.
+ Perfect for younger gamers.
+ Gorgeous graphics & art design.
+ Great animation.
+ Beautiful score.
+ Seeing your paintings persist throughout the journey is wonderful.
- Combat section isn't around long enough to really get into it.
- The game made me wish I had a kid...