Semblance Is a Puzzle Platformer About Deforming the World, and You HAVE to Play It

I had no idea what to expect when I stumbled upon a trailer for a game called Semblance for the Nintendo Switch.

As the video unfolded, I thought it'd turn out to be a fast-paced action platformer like Super Meat Boy or Celeste, but when it revealed the game's core mechanic, my jaw actually dropped wide open.

The game is a platformer, alright—but the platforms aren't all static. Many of them can be manipulated and molded to the player's will, enabling them to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. I'd never seen anything like it in a platformer, so I reached out to South African developer Nyamakop, who kindly hooked me up with a download of the game.

Semblance opens with a bunch of happy-looking purple critters gathering around a massive tree. But it's not long before a green crystalline creature appears and enters the world within the tree, corrupting it from within and making it's sharp, rocky features spread across a soft world.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

Barriers erupt from the earth and jagged stones create unsafe paths across the land. The whole world is transformed by the hardness, but thankfully, one purple blog named Squish steps up to put things back to the way they were.

At first, Squish can't do much except move around and jump. However, as it dives deeper into the world, it collects bubbling objects that allow it to do much more. First, it learns a dash move that can break through barriers and get it across chasms. This dash is also the most important move in the game, as it's what allows Squish to deform and move certain walls, transforming the world around it.

Secondly, it learns a move that resets any walls that have been changed. This is also extremely handy because most puzzles require platforms to be moved multiple times to solve them. There are also certain challenges that require very precise placement, so you may need to adjust and reset multiple times until you have everything set up perfectly.

Once these moves are obtained, the game gets right into the puzzles, and it never lets up. Four large trees in the main world act as portals to their own unique areas. Inside each of these large trees are smaller trees representing individual levels and showing how many swirling balls of energy must be collected there to progress. Grab each one to drive out the evil in that area, restoring the land to its natural beauty.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

Collecting each one is all about understanding the unique mechanics of the moving platforms, and solving these puzzles stretches my brain in a totally different way than any game has before. While the opening area has a mini tutorial that shows you how to use your basic moves, you have to figure out how to actually make use of them all on your own. I loved the satisfying feeling of breaking through a thin wall for the first time and discovering I could scale a wall by strategically creating little steps up its side.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

The first area is really about mastering the deformation of walls, and later areas add to the interesting mechanics of the game. Colorful powder prevents you from using your dash, so you have to work around it to solve problems. Beams of light make any platforms they touch revert to their original shapes. While these beams are initially irritating, they wind up coming in handy again and again because their resetting property can be used to create a slingshot effect, hurling Squish in the air or across a wide gap.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

But may favorite device in all of Semblance comes in the third area, in which you can change Squish's form by slamming into rigid rectangular stones. Making Squish short and wide allows it to travel faster and jump farther horizonally, but this seriously compromises its vertical jump. Making it tall and thin means you can get huge air when you jump vertically, but you move slowly and can't get under many obstacles.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

The puzzles in this area require constant thinking and reshaping, going back and forth between squat, regular and tall in order to suit every task needed to navigate one puzzle. These setups required some of the trickiest and most satisfying solutions in the game. The only shame is that it's introduced close to the end and that I couldn't have been utilizing it the entire game.

The last area is unlike all of the areas preceding it. It's more of a gauntlet than a puzzle, forcing you to combine all of the skills you've learned and react quickly in order to progress. Here, you're pursued by fast enemies and lasers, and you won't have a lot of time to stand around and map out your plan of attack. It's a lot of fun to use these skills in a different context, but unfortunately this portion of the game is super short.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

Still, the adventure along the way is worth every minute. The game also isn't entirely linear, and you're free to move back and forth between each of the puzzles in one main world until you're able to solve them all. Still, you'll have to collect every glowing ball from each of the trees in one area before you can move on to the next.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

This might sound a little limiting, but in my experience with the game, I never become frustrated with a lack of progress. There were absolutely times when I was stuck on a certain puzzle and decided to move forward, but I'd always come back to it before I'd leave the area. Remarkably, every time I did this, I found that I was suddenly a step closer to figuring out the solution, and I always did.

Maybe I gained some insight with the puzzles following it, or some time away from it finally allowed things to click. Either way, I found that all of the puzzles felt like they build off one another, and they were never painful to overcome. There are also optional secret areas to find and unlock along the way, and while I didn't discover them all, I was always proud of myself when I did encounter one.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

Aesthetically, the game is super simple, but this works for the gameplay and adds to the mystery of the world. It's populated with off characters who never utter a word and merely stand back and watch you as you save it from destruction. The entire game has an incredible but limited color palette consisting mostly of pinks, purples, greens and blues that makes everything feel distinctive, separating the world from the force that's invading it.

I'd also occasionally stumble upon cave paintings, which are some of the only clues to the deeper story of the game. Since there's no dialogue, interpretation of these clues is mostly up to the player. Somehow, that makes this unique game even more special.

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(Semblance via Gambitious)

My single gripe with this game is that there's not enough of it. My first run-through of Semblance was completed in a little under three hours, and that was with me getting stuck on certain puzzles and trying them again and again. It feels fresh and new, and it definitely warrants some DLC and multiple sequels down the line.

Semblance retails for $9.99, and while I loved playing it on the Nintendo Switch,  I also recommend playing it on itch.io if you don't have the console.

 

For more of our recommendations, click HERE to find out how to get the most out of the new Nintendo Switch party game Sausage Sports Club.