Concrete Genie Review
Every child has a moment where they wish their art could come to life. Be it in times of struggle, idle escapism, or even loneliness, that brief “I wish you were real” is achingly familiar. Concrete Genie is your chance to realize that childhood dream, even if it’s under somewhat bleak circumstances. This game also drives home that art, no matter one’s skill level, can be a powerful ally.
The game takes place in the tiny fishing village of Denska. A mystical force resembling shimmering oil has choked out the waters and the skies, leaving the town abandoned. Ash is more or less the only former resident still hoping for a return to better days. Unfortunately, the town’s bully brigade has other plans. What follows is a quest to both beautify the town and avoid getting beaten senseless. While the fights are out of your hands, the painting is well within your grasp.
A Stroke of Genius
Your art abilities are tied to a set of motion controls and an ever-expanding list of pages. Each one gives you another thing to splash across every wall. The tile-sets are gorgeous, though they unfold automatically. All you have to do is point and shoot, so to speak. I understand that this simplified system is perfect for preserving the aesthetic, but I still longed for a bit more creative freedom. Not that I have any artistic ability, mind you.
You have a similar level of agency when creating the Genies. You can choose the basic shape, as well as the attachments, but the style and substance is more or less locked. Again, this is in service to a larger sense of aesthetic. I still want the ability to craft whatever terrible or terrific monstrosity I desire, but good lord this game is pretty. Perhaps a few restrictions are worth the insane artwork you almost accidentally gin up. With barely a flick and a whisper, you can splatter bleak walls with incredible, vibrant pieces. Sometimes I caught myself rushing to complete an objective, but you can always go right back and fix whatever you’ve fumbled, to an extent.
I speak highly of the art, but it’s only part of the equation. The other two substantive components are the heart-wrenching story, and the puzzle elements. First, the bad: I found myself rather frustrated by some of the puzzles in Concrete Genie. Mostly one puzzle in particular. You see, Genies can get stuck while responding to your summons. They can travel on any wall (or other vertical surface) in order to reach you. Once in a while however, they will get waylaid en route. One such problem saw me spinning in circles for almost 45 minutes. It was excruciating but unusual. Thankfully, the other stumbling blocks were comparatively diminutive. The rest of the challenges I faced were tough, but manageable. The game started feeling almost predictable, until the last act of the story.
The Dark Before Dawn
We’re diving headfirst into spoiler territory, so proceed with caution. For most of the game’s runtime, Concrete Genie feels like a slow, bittersweet tale about a young man struggling to find his own kind of solace in a broken space with no room for him. It’s a powerful statement on the struggles of growing up, with childhood’s end both delayed and impossible to escape. You feel like you’re slowly reclaiming that lost magic, like things are going to be okay. Then things get dark.
I won’t go into too much detail, but some new, curveball game mechanics are effortlessly attached, and things do literally get quite bleak. In all honesty, I was quite ready for the end credits before discovering that there was a set of significant events left to get through. If things had ended the way I was predicting, it would have been… kind of terrible? As things stand, I was genuinely impressed with how the narrative was tied together.
Beyond the occasional puzzle hiccup, I ran into some framerate issues, though I stopped noticing them in short order. The motion controls are shockingly smooth, with only one issue during my whole playthrough. They made painting easy, even for someone who can’t. I loved making art, no matter how crowded or silly it looked. And while the art style was granular, it excelled at evoking some potent childhood memories. Most of us can recall scribbling sloppy masterpieces on construction paper and cement. This game drags you back to that time. Both the art and the narrative are suffused with the bittersweet power of nostalgia. Not that weaponized stuff Disney uses to carpet bomb whole demographics. No, this is a fine and fleeting thing that catches you the next day, a coffee cup halfway to your lips. It’s a short, steel rail line, but one that leads directly to halcyon summers and lingering sorrow. In other words, I highly recommend Concrete Genie.
***A PS4 code was provided by the publisher***
- Motion controls work great
- Monster art is enchanting
- Story will break your stupid heart
- Probably runs better on a Pro
- Oddly easy to get lost
- Would love some more creative freedom