Through its use of neon-accented ‘genies’ who come to life with the help of a magic paintbrush, Concrete Genie tells the story of a young, downtrodden artist named Ash, who is looking to help the rundown town he once loved. As Ash seeks escape in the outskirts of the abandoned docks near the old skyward cable car system, he is bothered by bullies who tear all the artwork from his sketchpad, leaving him with only the two covers; the pages scattered to the wind. They then push him into the cable car and activate it, sending him to an unknown destination. Will Ash be able to overcome the bullies that pick on him, or will he also fall into the same fate of the town he grew up in?
After Ash’s initial confrontation with the bullies, he discovers an abandoned lighthouse, on the island where the cable car takes him. In this lighthouse, Ash finds some of the lost pages from his sketchbook of creatures. What is interesting is that these creatures have now come to life and in doing so, have turned into genies with magical powers. The first evidence of these abilities is the use of their powers to put Ash’s book back together.
In this entirely singleplayer adventure, Ash will use his paintbrush and stencils to help his ethereal friends to solve puzzles and bring new brilliance to the abandoned town of Denska, a seaport lost to a broken world. Stencil placement is as simple as pulling up a menu, picking the shape, and using the motion control from your Dualshock 4 to direct your painting on various surfaces. You don’t have to be an expert artist to play around with the tools provided to you, and just about anyone can create something beautiful with minimal effort.
Additionally, you can create genies of many different types with various horns, body shapes and other parts, which can be used to further accent your artwork. Your main point to all the painting is to light up bulbs scattered around town to push back the darkness, but there are some obstacles that will keep you from this task. After climbing numerous buildings and scaling walls to create your artwork and solve puzzles, you’ll eventually come across the bullies and even some evil genies.
The bullies will confine the game to more of a stealth-like approach, which is a striking contrast to the main painterly gameplay, but it works well enough that it’s not too bothersome. Once you distract them and lead them away, you can get to the wall that needs your attention. The evil genies, however, will turn the game into more of an action brawler, with Ash skating around his adversaries and using attacks to defeat them. It’s an odd choice, but thankfully only takes up the last portion of the game.
The art in Concrete Genie, from the music to the physical art used in the characters and set design is absolutely breathtaking. The textures and animation style feels very reminisce of the clay or doll-like use in stop-motion films, and it feels right at home with Concrete Genie’s whimsical, mystical story. The brilliant, neon-accented paint and gorgeously nuanced stencils that make the game feel so magical is really a treat to use, especially from an artist’s standpoint. It makes sense that the world that Ash finds himself would be otherwise dull, looking for the splashes of color that you create, and it’s dark, dingy tones are fitting, given the environment. It works well that Denska is a blank canvas, looking to be an artist’s next muse.
Concrete Genie is a beautiful game, through and through. Putting you in the role of being an unsung hero, bringing light and color to an otherwise abandoned, hopeless world just feels good. Some of the gameplay choices with fighting and stealth near the end don’t quite fit the overall zen-like gameplay that encompasses the experience, but they are small distractions from a game that personifies bullies and gives a deeper sight into their motivation, making them more human than monsters. In a game full of light and dark, monsters and their human counterparts, this part of the story serves as an excellent underlying message that will leave you wanting more, even after the credits start to roll.
||Gorgeous art pairs with an intriguing story|
||Painting is fun and simple, adds to the gameplay|
||Awkward combat and stealth segments at the end seem forced|
||Game can be played in VR, but seems like an afterthought rather than a primary mode|