Concrete Genie bring it back to life with colour, love, and warmth
Concrete Genie you get to take something drab and dead and bring it back to life with colour, love, and warmth. It’s a very simple and short experience that focuses mainly on light puzzling, 3D platforming, and a little stealth, but its charm and general sense of playfulness really make it a worthwhile adventure. Concrete Genie you play as Ash, a boy who dreams of bringing his former home, a fishing port called Denksa, back to life. The town has been corrupted by an oil spill and negative emotions, and is now a desolate maze-like neighbourhood by the water. Ash’s love of art and memories of better days draw him to the run-down area, despite his parents’ warnings. Unfortunately for Ash, his bullies also enjoy running amok in the ghost town; they tear up his art book and push him into a cable car bound for Denska lighthouse (known for housing a ghost), starting him on a new journey.
Concrete Genie fills in the rest, adding fine details that can vary depending on the sticker. Flowers may create extra grass, and trees can grow additional branches, but it all works to make whatever you’re creating far more impressive. The artwork is made of light and genuinely quite beautiful–if a little overbearingly bright at times. Much like projected light art or bright neon signs, they work well in moderation but can get overly busy. You do have to go quite overboard to create something that’s actually ugly, which makes the act of painting the town really satisfying–you get to watch a boring dull environment become something quite pretty with very minimal effort. To light up the hanging lights, any painting will do. This means that sometimes, for simplicity’s sake, I used the same art over and over again, covering the walls with butterflies or stars out of laziness. Occasionally, you may need to paint something specific, but even then it can get a little repetitive. All of the paintable objects come from your sketchbook the aforementioned bullies tore apart, and these pages are scattered all over Denska. Along the way, you’ll also find spots to create new genies, which will in turn help you solve puzzles and access new areas. These genies have set colours which allow them to solve different elemental puzzles–red genies can burn down a tarp, for example, whereas blue ones can blow on specific objects, and yellow ones generate electricity to power various doors and switches. The downside to the puzzles is calling one genie to solve a problem calls all who are available to come, so often there’s not much active work on your part to solve them–Instead, the genies come along and, aside from a few exceptions, they’ll just solve it on their own. As genies are still technically paintings that exist on the walls they were painted on, they can only travel on connected walls and are locked in their own areas. This means you may need to have found the painting spot for the type of genie you need first, but this still isn’t very difficult.
Concrete Genie takes a surprising turn in the final act, when combat suddenly makes an appearance. As a part of the narrative, it makes sense and is an enjoyable twist, but because it’s such a short-lived mechanic it feels under-developed. Like the elements of the genies, you are granted three different elemental attacks that need to be used to take down different shields. The half-hour dedicated to combat, mostly involving boss fights, doesn’t give much opportunity for you to experiment with it. I’m still not sure if all the attacks did damage or whether some just caused status effects because there wasn’t enough time or enemies to organically work it out. When you’re granted combat, you also gain new movement abilities, which include paint skating. This means you no longer have to run so much and can instead essentially skate on magical painted shoes. It makes getting around even more fluid than it was before, and unlike your ability to shoot elements, you get to keep this one even after the main story is completed. Because it’s introduced fairly late into the game, it makes jumping back in after the story to clean up collectibles really enjoyable. The game itself only takes about six hours to complete on an initial playthrough, and once it’s “over” you really do want to play more. But even with the 10 or so hours I spent finding all the secrets and collectibles, it still feels like some concepts could still have been explored to a greater degree. Most of what Concrete Genie has to offer is fun and beautiful in a sort of childlike way. The game is not particularly difficult, and overcoming a puzzle or combat scenario isn’t always satisfying. But it’s ultimately still an endearing experience throughout. There’s plenty of enjoyment to be found just from the act of exploring, and little hidden secrets along the way help make it worthwhile; I just wish Concrete Genie had more adventure waiting for me.
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