Puzzle games are a rare occurrence on game consoles, especially as they often find quite a niche audience in a sea of instant action video games. Perhaps they are rare because they require deep thought, clever thinking, and sharp wits to successfully conquer, which is in stark comparison to picking up a shooting game and opening fire on enemies. However, for those that do play puzzle games, there is a very sharp sensation of reward and accomplishment. The ability to use the mind over the matter is quite the thrill, and unlocking the mysteries of what lies is ahead never gets old. While some puzzle games are highly ambitious, they can be quite the daunting task for those unfamiliar with certain puzzle mechanics. However, Canadian-based Vivid Helix Game is hoping to change that with the launch of their highly ambitious puzzle-adventure game, Semispheres, coming to the PlayStation 4 on February 14th. This indie gem had the special opportunity to be featured in the PAX RISING booth, located at PAX SOUTH Video Game Convention in San Antonio Texas. Following on an appointment, I met Radu Muresan, a head member for the studio. As I awaited my turn, I began to learn more about this mesmerizing game.
Semispheres is a puzzle adventure game, with stealth influences and an immersive setting. Players take control of two glowing jellyfish, one orange, and one blue. The trick is that each jellyfish can be controlled separately, one to each analog stick. The left analog stick controls the Orange Jellyfish, and the right analog stick controls the blue jellyfish. The two different jellyfish appear on the same screen, with the orange jellyfish isolated to the left and the blue jellyfish isolated to the right, each contained in their own puzzles. Players will travel through a calming and vivid dimension, avoiding enemies and solving obstacles, while listening to a calming soundtrack.
As I waited my turn, Mr. Muresan explained the game to me. During a Game Jam session, Mr. Muesan, and the team and Vivid Helix Games came up with a prototype puzzler game in less than 48 hours. From the prototype came the ideas and concepts for a unique puzzle game. The idea was to have the game takes place in two separate realities, but allow the characters to intertwine and mingle within their realities to help them navigate the levels. Additionally, the use of the control scheme, which involved using two characters at once, was a unique draw that could change the very mechanics of the game. After two years of development, the game is essentially ready for launch.
With an open computer, I donned the headsets, grabbed a controller, and got to work. The first impression players have is the visual style. The glowing lines and simple layouts are rich enough to feel as if players have been transported to another world but not overwhelming as to distract ourselves from the main characters. Initially, the controls took a bit getting used to, but moments later, I was right at home controlling the two characters.
The first few levels were easy, and orient players into the new mechanics. Players will see that the objective is to aim for the swirling portal at the end of the level, to progress. Soon enough, though, I already encountered my first challenge. On the left side of the screen was an amoeba-like creature, with a vision cone. Once spotted, players would be reset back to the start. Fortunately, the puzzles were all on one-screen, so it would not be such a massive effort lost.
To successfully navigate past the amoeba, the orange jellyfish on the left side of the screen, deployed a noise beacon, which distracted the amoeba on the right long enough for the jellyfish to slip through unnoticed. I was actually very impressed as this was my first introduction to the stealth mechanics of the game, unique for this particular puzzler.
Later on in the demo, I encountered a wormhole. It wasn’t the exit wormhole, but a temporary opening into the other dimension of the opposing jellyfish. On the right side, it looked like an orange dot and on the left side, a blue dot. Utilizing this portal was quintessential for deploying distractions that would help the other side. One level, in particular, allowed me to grab a noise beacon, slip onto the other side, and deploy it, as to distract the amoebas in the level and allow the blue jellyfish to escape. The same would be applied in other levels with the blue jellyfish on the right assisting the left jellyfish.
Towards the end of the demo, I found myself in a tight puzzle, with no portals. However, there was a special ability, and that allowed me to switch the jellyfish between their color-coded levels. Orange would be on the blue side, and Blue would be on the orange side. At the conclusion of this level, I was met with a final screenshot of a comic strip. It appeared that a boy was opening a gift, and from it, a friendly-looking robot emerged. What this meant and what it entails I will not know until I play the full game at launch.
Throughout my demo, it all made for an exciting and even fast-paced puzzle experience, with a unique, tying twist. I found myself having quite a lot of fun and being amazed by the unique mechanics presented in the title. If there was any negative I could say, I could not hear the music of the game, perhaps because the show floor was filled with loud noise. However, based on what I played, I am sure that the soundtrack will be an amazing experience for the ears.
As I concluded my appointment, I made mention of two particular games. In 2014, Futurlab Games Studios from the UK released Velocity 2X, a fast-paced interstellar spaceship shooter with teleportation mechanics. Towards the end of the game, players could control two ships at once on the same controls, changing and evolving the gameplay. Additionally, I mentioned the PS4 exclusive Entwined by Pixel Opus. While not exactly a puzzler, it did feature two characters on-screen attempting to go through portals and objects in an attempt to unite as one and break the barrier separating their worlds. I found myself happy that this unique screen-sharing mechanic had not diminished from the spotlight. As for the story, Mr. Muresan wants players to see the story without words, and interpret what happens next.
My time with Semispheres was a very welcoming one. I am very glad to have had this opportunity, as Semispheres is certainly one of the most unique games I have played at PAX SOUTH
Semishperes arrives for PCs and PS4 on February 14th.