There’s not been a time recently when I’ve been able to say to myself “what a delightful game” with genuine sincerity, but Concrete Genie provoked that reaction for every second of its colourful adventure. Set in an abandoned, grimy town called Denska, we play as a young boy named Ash. He’s an artistic lad who gets his kicks creating zany doodles in his notebook, but harassed by a gang of bullies he loses all of his drawings and is chucked into a cable car that takes him to a decrepit lighthouse.

In the lighthouse he finds one of the missing pages of his book – a drawing of a creature – and as he becomes depressed that all of his creations are ruined or missing, the creature manifests in front of him and comes to life. It then leads him through the lighthouse to a magical paintbrush which gives Ash the ability to put his artwork all over the town and, more interestingly, create other creatures (genies as the game calls them) that spring to life on the walls. Ash sets back out to the town to retrieve his missing pages and hopefully make the rundown environs a more colourful place again.

The game plays fundamentally as a third person adventure. You run around the small open environments of the town jumping and climbing over walls and up buildings – Ash is reminiscent of a young Uncharted’s Drake in this respect – and are required to solve simple puzzles in order to unlock new areas. But obviously where the meat of the game lies is in its painting and genie mechanics.

For those like myself who are less talented in the art department, Concrete Genie mercifully does most of the work for you, and actually painting in the game is more like plastering animated stickers, albeit choosing their size and position. Gathering missing pages around the town unlocks artworks and features that you can use to create a scene – be that patches of grass and trees, flowers, stars or glowing fungi; there’s fair variety of designs to unlock by the game’s end.

The point of painting the walls throughout the town is to ‘bring light’ back to its streets. That’s not just a fancy metaphor, but literally creating drawings underneath bulbs will bring them back to life, and the underlying objective of the game is to complete this in every area. You could be lazy about it and put random designs everywhere just to progress, but having these bulbs spread across the town gives you the opportunity to create a variety of pictures and generally just make the place look much nicer. Once completing an area the camera will pan throughout it, showing what you’ve drawn – be that in all its glory or shame. Some areas are polluted by a black gunk, however, which cannot be painted on, but supercharging your paintbrush allows you to temporarily increase your painting power and actually deal with those areas. In order to supercharge you need to get your genies to give you power, and to do this you must make them happy by painting things they ask for.

The genies are where the game really shines. Much like the paintings, genies are created by selecting pre-designed features, however at least with your creatures you have a bit more creative freedom – choosing everything from its legs to arms, body and hat. Genies can only be created at specific parts of the map, so there’s a limited number you can bring to life, but when you realise they have a mind of their own and can follow you pretty much everywhere you go, it’s certainly for the best you can’t just create them willy-nilly.

The genies serve a few functions, and aside from just being funny to look at they actually interact with the environments as well. Painting a scene and encouraging a genie to go to it will result in them responding to the designs you’ve painted. They’ll hide behind bushes, rest by a log fire, chase butterflies and eat fruit – whatever you design, the genies can be a part of its setting. Playing with the genies in this manner proves delightful, as it’s not just curious to watch, but you can also join in with them – playing peekaboo, waving at them, scaring them with lightning, etc; it oozes with charm.

More usefully genies can also assist with puzzles. Special genies can be created at specific points on the map, and these come with powers such as fire, electricity and wind. If you need something burned down, power restored to a generator or a box blown out of the way, these are the genies you will rely on. The puzzling overall is very simplistic, and the only thing you might struggle with is getting the genies to follow you and perform their action, but even then I didn’t ever find this particularly challenging (certainly no issues like I faced with Trico in The Last Guardian, anyway – though I suppose the AI in that game was a deal more complex).

This point relates to my only real criticism of the game, and to be honest it might not be a criticism at all depending on how you look at it. With the exception of finding 100% of the pages and collectables, the game is remarkably easy, and even in conflict situations there’s no real challenge on offer. Throughout the beginning of the game you are being passively pursued by this gang of bullies, and if spotted they will chase you, but there wasn’t a single occasion I was actually caught when pursued, and distracting them from an area doesn’t require much skill. Even falling to your doom or encounters with enemies at the end of the game doesn’t come with a failure state so much as plonking you a little way back with no hamper on your progress. I can’t say I care, to be total honest, as the game is clearly relying more on its passive charms, however if you are the sort of gamer that needs at least a bit of challenge to avoid being bored, Concrete Genie won’t provide that.

Speaking of enemies toward the end of the game, past the half way point is when combat is first introduced. I’m not going to go into detail regarding who you are fighting, as this is related to turns in the story, but the town you’ve worked hard to brighten up becomes assaulted by creatures and you must use your newfound paintbrush powers to defeat them. There’s three attacks you can use – all projectiles – which, as you might have expected, involve fire, electricity and wind. You can dodge/roll out of the way of attacks, and also use your supercharge ability to make your attacks more potent. It’s not unenjoyable or really flawed in any way, but it’s hard to say that the combat really adds anything to the overall experience, particularly as it is introduced so late into the game. That’s not a reason necessarily for not including this as a mechanic (it does relate to the plot after all), but Concrete Genie, much like how it’s ‘not a stealth game’ is also not an action game.

Aside from bulbs to relight, the town of Denska also has a number of painting points that require specific designs. The most notable of these are the ‘masterpieces’ which are unlocked during the story – these being larger paintings that you must create to your genies’ requirements. But there’s also billboards to redraw and ‘moments’ to create. The billboards are much like the masterpieces but on a smaller scale and you have to match the drawings that are already there, however the moments require you to create a specific scene with your genies. The genies will request the designs and you simply plonk them on the wall (assuming you have unlocked them) and watch what it creates. Though simple in concept, these are really cool to complete as your genie will act out whatever moment you’ve created – eating an ice cone, chasing butterflies or getting snapped at by a Venus fly trap, for example. The graphical style of the game assists in its quirky charm, with character models in cut scenes being designed to a sort of stop motion effect, and despite the town being run down, overall the game has a great atmosphere in its visuals and is capable of presenting some fantastic colours.

Unfortunately though, as I’ve seen a number of others intimate about the game, there’s just not enough to it. I don’t necessarily mean this with regards to its mechanics, though I could see argument for this, but overall Concrete Genie is very short. I managed to 100% platinum the game in about 4-5 hours, and for what it offers in terms of creative potential, this simply wasn’t enough. Again, it’s a bit of a double edged criticism – the game is good enough that it deserves more time and content, however by not providing it the overall experience is underwhelmed. But with a game as charming as this, it’s hard to stay mad, and Concrete Genie is perhaps one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had for a while. The game contains negative concepts, but overall it’s a very positive and bright experience. The genie system is both entertaining and impressive in how they react to your designs, and while some more talented artists might be disappointed by its painting mechanics, I think for everyone else what the developers have done can accommodate a more playful artistic creativity. More of it would have been nice, and coupled with the lack of challenge this is the reason the game isn’t hitting 9 or 10 territory; but as it is the developers can be proud that what they’ve created is indeed ‘a delightful experience’ and thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1 - Crash Bandicoot and Ridge Racer Revolution being the first 'real' games I ever set eyes on - and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games, the sort offered by titles such as Total War and Silent Hill, though I also have a soft spot for a good RPG. I studied Journalism at university in the hopes of progressing into writing about games. You'll most likely find me covering indie games as I'm always on the look out for interesting little titles, and generally I stick to the PC and PS4 platforms. I'm not interested in MMOs or really any kind of online game, and I have an unusual and frankly worryingly expensive obsession with collecting gaming guide books, but aside from that I like to think I'm a well rounded average gamer. Find me on twitter @JohnLittle29