Semblance is a very squishy game. It’s set in a world where almost everything can be squeezed, shoved and manipulated out of its natural form, making oddly slimy and biological sounds as you do so. It’s also a world that’s under threat from an alien infestation that is making the world harder.
Born out of the very ground it’s trying to save, Squish has to journey through the world collecting its very essence in order to restore its soft bounciness. It’s here that all of the game’s puzzles lie, in deforming parts of the world to let Squish overcome the obstacles and dangers in its way. There’s always a gap that’s too wide to jump across, something to collect that’s just out of reach, and it’s only through deforming the world that Squish can get by.
Effectively a little squidgy cube with eyes, Squish can do a little dash, whether on the ground or in midair, making this akin to a double jump at times. It’s through dashing into the softer parts of the world that they can be bent out of shape, pushing an otherwise flat platform into one that’s got bumps and divots knocked into it. That can give Squish the height it needs to jump past some deadly pink or green crystals, it can get in the way of laser beams that would fry Squish, or even tilt the beam emitters themselves so they’re pointing in a different direction.
With the minimalist art style, half of the puzzle is looking for the points in the world that you can deform. They’re a slightly different shade of colour that can easily be overlooked if you’re not taking in the whole scene, but it’s about knowing what you have to work with in trying to find the solution. The gameplay ideas evolved and grew nicely through the selection of demo levels I played, starting with the more simple problems of getting Squish a platform, to using and avoiding beams that reset any part of the world they touch – this lets you catapult Squish up into the air – or knocking divots into walls that Squish can nestle in before jumping higher, as Semblance’s equivalent to wall jumping. Though there’s always a set solution to the problem, it feels like you’re exploring and discovering things for yourself.
It’s a look that really suits the game though. Different areas have different dominant colours in the theme, bringing the infected elements to the fore. It’s somewhat reminiscent for me of the style of LocoRoco, but darker and more monotone in a way that helps you understand the world. Whether this area is coloured in hazy purple tones or in darker blues, you understand quite easily that the contrasting colours are going to be bad for you. Whether they’re jagged green crystals, laser beams or diffused reset lights, these are the things invading this world and they often need to be avoided or overcome in order to succeed.
Its not just the the world that can be deformed, however. Sometimes you have to adapt to your surroundings, squishing the little lump into different shapes. Jumping at certain hard points will squish it horizontally or vertically, boosting its movement abilities in that direction at the same time. If there’s a particularly wide gap, being flatter lets Squish go faster horizontally, while being taller lets it jump higher to reach platforms otherwise out of reach.
Even though Ben Myres, one half of Nyamakop, remarked that I was “remarkably well socialised for someone with toes on their shoes,” I really liked Semblance’s quirky puzzle platforming. Honestly, I think he was a bit disappointed that I didn’t have more of a reaction to his mocking, but I’ve heard worse, and honestly that’s probably only going to endear him and his game to those who are grossed out by my choice of footwear.
But really that’s beside the point. Semblance is one to look out for when it releases for Switch, PC and Mac on 24th July. It’s clever, it’s weirdly cute and it will likely have you scratching your head as you try to figure out how to bend the world to your will.