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Semblance Review

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It is not often that I get to sit down and type a review about a South African-made game. Nyamakop has come a long way over the past few months winning awards for their squishy platformer, Semblance and I even met the developers at E3 2018. I have been interested in getting my hands on the full game and I finally did a few weeks ago as I was sent a review code to test it out playing the Switch version. 

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Semblance is a fun experience that I enjoyed from the opening breezy stages all the way to the later challenging puzzles. It never feels too complicated and may be shallow at times but its great level design kept me going even when I sat for thirty minutes trying to complete a puzzle that had the most obvious solution I could not for the love of me find. 

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In Semblance, you take on the role of Squish, a blob of goo born after a strange disaster takes place in the world in which the game is set. This poisonous crystal-like material has taken over the forests and landscapes and you need to head into various worlds to collect spheres that seem to cleanse the poison. The game has three worlds to explore with various levels per world. Every time you enter a world you will get taken into another sub-level that acts as the level select area where you can pick and choose what level you want to take on. This gives the game a sense of freedom and if you are struggling to complete a puzzle in an area, you can always come back later. 

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Semblance is all about forming and deforming your environment in order to get past a deadly trap or make a pathway in order to collect a sphere. Squish has very little abilities other than slamming into a wall, ledge or floor to push a section of it out, and dashing a short distance in the air or on the ground. While he seems defenceless, it is all about the "plat-forming" aspect of the game that makes it so unique. 

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Squish can nudge a wall out a bit to create a ladder-like ledge, slam into the ground to create a borrow of safety to get away from a flying crystal mass, and even nudge a platform vertically so you create steps to use as jump support while you cross a deadly crystal mass. Early levels are pretty basic as they ease you into the game. Nudge a wall with a laser to move the laser into a safe position so it does not burn you to dust, slam a wall to create a safe barrier between you and the laser, and sometimes move two lasers by forming their support platform so they touch. It is all very satisfying seeing the world around you change and the pathways open as you try and reach that collectable in the distance.

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There is also a lot of versatility given how the world around you can be formed. This means reaching an orb or even just smashing into a fly, which acts as the game's collectables are easier to get to as there is often more than one way to get the job done. Later levels see you unable to deform a platform due to a red light that automatically returns it to its former shape, similar to Squish's power too. I then used these lights as an opportunity to create jump pads so as soon as the platform hit the light, it shot the platform back into position and flung me into the air right in front of the orb. 

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Later levels then saw Squish change form from a round creature to a flat one either squished down, able to get through tight gaps or thin able to jump up through smaller gaps. While Squish was flat he jumped lower able to collect things without bumping his head on deadly spikes and while thin he could dash up in the air like a torpedo covering three times the distance. 

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It was these moments that made Selmbance feel so great and really showed the level of creativity behind the game's level design. Puzzles were always refreshing even though throughout each world they featured two or three predominant mechanics and the challenge was met with satisfaction knowing you did more than just move a box to a ledge in order to climb over an obstacle. 

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There is a subtle story to Semblance. However, it is never told directly to the player. Instead, you need to try and make sense of murals and images hidden away in the worlds. These images show creatures being exiled and by my understanding, it seems that the poison crystals have been born from the discrimination between the tribes in the game. While this could be my own crazy interpretation, it would be fantastic if it was given the game is South African and racism and discrimination is an everyday theme here. 

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Semblance is a fantastic platformer that delivers a unique perspective from its story right through to its puzzles and gameplay. Every new area I faced had a range of great challenges to tackle and new mechanics to master that kept things fresh throughout the game. Squish feels great to control as you scoot around each stage overcoming the obstacles in the way and deforming your environment to get to your goal. While its three worlds will take you around 3 hours to get through, you can always replay it or head back to find the hidden totems and kill the flies. Considering this is the first game from our proudly South African studio, Nyamakop, I  cannot wait to see what else they cook up in the years to come.

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Available On: Switch, PC, Mac | Reviewed On: Switch | Release Date: 24 July 2018 | RRP:R130     

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