Sunday, 19 February 2017 00:00

Semispheres Review

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Get ready to break your brain and practice your ambidexterity: Semispheres is coming to Steam. Practically dripping with indie awards, Semispheres is a single-player puzzle game that utilizes a split-screen mechanic, where each hand controls a character on either side of the screen. It’s a relatively simple setup, but the gameplay intensifies as your left and right hands become at odds with each other while controlling the disparate movements of your characters.

Characters are jolly little translucent mixes between trilobites and jellyfish.

One is bright orange and lives on the orange, or left, side of the screen, and the other is cool, cornflower blue and lives on the blue, or right, side of the screen. The game recommends the player to use a controller, and that recommendation will be reiterated here: It is ten times more intuitive to use a controller, where the player directs the trilo-jellies with two joysticks, than using WASD and directional keys at the same time. It's absolutely possible to play this game on a keyboard, but there would be a bit of a learning curve. The point of the game is to get both of the trilo-jellies to their respective swirling finish line portals at the same time, and avoid the guards that stand in the way. To do this, the player is given a variety of tools to navigate the board, and most of the time the two characters must work together by using portals (which lead to each other’s worlds), bridges, noise-making apparatuses (to distract the guards), and world-switching mechanics. When both trilo-jellies reach their finish line portals, the player is rewarded with a beautiful convergence of the two worlds, creating a pleasant, milky-green color.

There is a storyline which unlocks every four or five levels completed. It’s a heartwarming tale of a boy and his robot friend, told in sketched, three-or-four panel comic strips. While the gameplay can seem repetitive, even with new tools and puzzles on every level, the simplistic storyline does a good job of keeping the player interested.

One huge appeal to Semispheres is the artistry.

By using bright colors and translucent, moving parts, the entire game seems as if it is made of light. Everything is slightly shimmering, which brings life and depth to what would otherwise be a very flat, two-dimensional board. The background is reminiscent of close-up depictions of  cerebral neurons and synapses, and the way they glow and darken only contributes to this resemblance. If you are a fan of calming, ambient video game music, you might recognize the name of the composer for Semispheres: Sid Barnhoorn. Barnhoorn has written music for acclaimed indie games such as The Stanley Parable, Antichamber, and Out There. The score Barnhoorn wrote for Semispheres continues his legacy of meditative and relaxing gaming music. The soundtrack ties in perfectly with the game’s atmosphere.

Semispheres still has some room to grow.

Almost every level teaches the player a new way of navigating a puzzle, be it a different concept, tool, or obstacle, and because of the gradual teaching mechanism, no tutorial is needed. But, once all of the concepts are understood, there are one or two final levels, and then the game ends. The gradual difficulty ramp is perfect for learning the game, but the end is anticlimactic because the player only gets one or two real challenges which test all of these newfound skills. Don’t take this criticism as a sneaky compliment: every player hates when a good game ends, but not giving the player the satisfaction of putting their hard work towards a real challenge is more than just frustrating - it’s poor game design. It seems like a good bit of challenge could be introduced with a multiplayer mode. The game is already set up to fit nicely with a co-op option; rather than two characters on the board, there could be four, with two players working in tandem to solve each puzzle.


The Verdict

Semispheres runs very smoothly: the controls are simple and intuitive, and there are little to no bugs. This is incredibly important in a puzzle game, where even one bug can keep a player stuck for days. The design is beautiful, and the music only adds to the overall meditative aesthetic. The little trilobite-jellyfish characters even move pleasantly, swimming through their orange and blue realms, their tentacles swishing rhythmically behind them. Semispheres simply needs to capitalize on all of the hard work that the developers put into the puzzle mechanisms with new and challenging levels... perhaps even a co-op.

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Allison Holmes

Allison has been playing video games since she was little and used to sneak onto her parent’s PC and play on their Diablo account. Since then, she’s gone through nearly every incarnation of Nintendo and PlayStation consoles, and especially loves puzzle, adventure, and horror games. Recently, she’s gained an appreciation for indie games and other challenges to the form.


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