I hadn't heard much about Concrete Genie prior to playing it. It didn't have a strong marketing push behind it, and it just sort of appeared onto the PlayStation Store without any fanfare. This seems bizarre considering it was developed by one of Sony's studios, and that usually doesn't bode well for a game's quality.
But even though it seems like this game has been buried and set out to die in the crowded fall release schedule, Concrete Genie is a short and sweet experience filled to the brim with wonder and creativity.
This Place Makes Ghost Towns Look Lively
Concrete Genie revolves around a teenager named Ash who's a typical quiet artist lost in his drawings and sketches. He hangs out in an old port town called Denska, which is mostly abandoned after being ruined by economic disaster. It's also covered in weird, glowing purple goo that no one seems to find all that suspicious. On top of that, because no adults care to spend their time in Denska, it's been overrun by juvenile delinquents who bully Ash, rip up his sketchbook, and send him on a trolley to the old haunted lighthouse.
Which is actually pretty fortuitous. As it turns out, the only thing haunting the lighthouse is one of Ash's sketches, a blue apparition named Luna. From there, Ash is gifted a magic paintbrush and heads off to restore Denska to its former glory, while both avoiding and attempting to win over those nasty bullies.
The entire story plays out like a Disney or Dreamworks film, which works because Concrete Genie isn't very long so the story doesn't get a chance to drag. It's a pretty familiar plot — misunderstood boy becomes a hero with artistic powers — but it's effectively told, and I'd be lying if I said certain parts didn't get me a little misty-eyed.
Concrete Genie is a puzzle-platformer, and Ash moves around as if he was the lost son of Nathan Drake (of the Uncharted franchise), scaling walls and ladders, and jumping across horribly unsafe distances. The puzzle part comes from Ash's giant enchanted paintbrush. It's your job to decorate the entire town, using sketches you collect by finding the various torn pages of Ash's notebook.
You also create the titular Concrete Genies at certain points. They work kind of like big, dopey Pikmin, semi-sentient plant/animal lifeforms from the game series of the same name. They can help with certain puzzle elements, like burning tarps or powering up electrical boxes. By drawing what they want, they'll provide you with Super Paint to draw over goo-covered walls. You color an entire area until you can create a Masterpiece, a giant mural that allows you to move to the next zone. It also helps get rid of all that goopy purple dark energy that's enveloped Denska.
Concrete Genie never gets especially difficult. I found the core gameplay loop to be quite engaging. It allows you to paint however you want, and you can even design your own Genies using a series of preset sketches. You can control the brush using the right stick, but shockingly I preferred to use the motion controls of the Dualshock controller, which might be the first time that's ever happened.
So Much Whimsy
It's just an incredibly lovely title that has a surprising amount of personality. The paintings are animated with a vibrant style, and the Genies are big goofballs that are hard to not like. Ash and the other characters are animated with an interesting stop-motion effect on their faces, which is a little distracting at first, but easy to get used to. The music and sound design are also excellent. It seems like a lot of work went into the game's soundtrack.
If I had one major complaint about Concrete Genie, it's that it takes a pretty hard left turn near the end of the game. Out of the blue, it completely changes what kind of game it is and turns into something else entirely. However, while it is a little disorientating, it does work out and helps build to the story's emotional climax. Plus, this part of the game throws something in that heavily reminded me of old school skate action game Jet Set Radio, so it gets a pass.
A Wish For More
I have a feeling that people are going to sleep on Concrete Genie, which is unfortunate because it's so remarkably charming. It's not especially lengthy, and its narrative is clearly skewed towards a younger audience.
But it's a wonderful little title that I'm happy to have gotten my hands on, and its sense of creativity is commendable. It truly puts a lot of value into art and imagination, and it's admirable that Sony would allow one of their studios to make this kind of small adventure. I wasn't familiar with developer Pixelopus before, but I hope this does well enough for them to continue making more games like this.
I don't throw the word whimsical out often, but there's no better description for Concrete Genie.
4 Out Of 5 Stars
A copy of Concrete Genie was purchased by TheGamer for this review. Concrete Genie is available for PS4.