Concrete Genie is an interesting game. There’s a fantastic idea behind it, and a beautiful aesthetic, but minor flaws are flies in the ointment with Sony’s latest exclusive.
The game focuses on Ash, an artistic 14-year-old who lives on the wrong side of the tracks in Denska, a town that has no good side of the tracks. Living in such a desolate place means you’re going to meet some shady characters, like Bully Archetypes #17, who prefer to play ‘Rip Up Your Sketchbook’.
Joke’s on them though, because Ash gets a sweet magic paintbrush now.
Paint me a Picture
Seeing as your town is literally overrun with a thorny cousin of The Smooze (and nothing can stop The Smooze), and you need a new creative outlet, you take up brushes to Make Denska Beautiful Again. But that’s cool, because the magic brush gives you a genie pal. One you can paint onto concrete. A… Well, you see where I’m going, it’s a Concrete Genie. Their name is Luna. We love them.
To properly combat The Darkness, and appease our adorable new bestie, we’ll need to cover this dilapidated village with graffiti. You get new designs for this well-meaning anti-social behaviour by finding your shredded notebook. Remember when you tracked down Ben Franklin’s notes in Assassin’s Creed 3? No? Good, because that was awful; this is way more fun.
I loved the genies. These guys are like instant best friends, and help you reach areas that were originally obstructed or unreachable. It’s a simple transaction; you paint stuff they want, and they give you access to new locations.
The mythology nerd in me questions why these things are called genies. There’s no lamps or wishes here, although they are pretty helpful and frankly adorable. While customisable and theoretically pretty unique, your genies don’t actually have much going for them by way of personality; it seems like they’re there to perform a function, with a few bells and whistles, and your creativity won’t affect that.
Still cool though.
Concrete Genie is a stunningly beautiful game. Denska is meant to be gloomy and forsaken, sure, but it manages to be gorgeous at the same time. The cartoony style matches the game’s tone perfectly, and the luminous paint of your brush in nothing short of breathtaking. There has been a TON of effort put in here, and it shows right off the bat. The interplay of light and shadow sounds like something a pretentious art critic would say. Luckily, I’m a pretentious game critic, and the interplay of light and shadow is god damn hype.
Animation is also excellent, with both Ash and the genies moving in a fluid but Coraline-esque way. It’s something I haven’t seen in quite a while, if ever, and while I wouldn’t want too much of it it felt just right here.
Music synergises with art, with brush strokes evoking new sounds. Not that the general soundtrack isn’t nice enough, but I’m a real sucker for interactive audio. It creates a much more immersive experience, and Concrete Genie does it well.
The map wasn’t the easiest to navigate, and I could have done with some waypoints to make traversal a bit less confusing. But that’s the thing when you have freedom like this; tipping over in the other direction too much might blow the whole gig.
Also you can pet cats. Which really seals the deal for me, to be honest.
A Flawed Masterpiece
With the smooth comes the rough, right? Some mechanics felt like great ideas on paper, but weren’t actualised all that well. Painting, honestly, didn’t feel spectacular, especially at first. The DualShock 4’s motion controls have never been my favourite, and the analog stick doesn’t fare any better. Thankfully Concrete Genie realises that you’re probably not Rembrandt, so this doesn’t affect the quality of your cartoon Banksy.
The game tales a dark turn in the middle, and the focus shifts from city development to urban warfare. While this was cool, it’s really not what I expected from Concrete Genie, and almost feels like it might work better as its own game. Combat optimisation just isn’t there.
It’s also short. This doesn’t bother me, as I’m here for a good time not a long time, but if you get this for a kid you’d expect a bit more bang for your buck. They’ll love it, but they’ll power through it. The VR stage was fun, but suffers from the same famine of content. Look, it’s a good thing that we want more of a game, but also, we want more of this game.
Overall Concrete Genie is beautiful, poignant, and fun, but suffers from some confusion in what it is, and there simply isn’t enough of it. Someone get me a lamp so I can wish for more Concrete Genie, because this is the kind of game that will be perfected in a sequel.