In 2014 Sony founded its new development team Pixelopus. It was set to be the smallest PlayStation Studio and would create smaller experiences. Concrete Genie is their second game on the market, released in October of 2019.
I decided that I would finish the PS4 generation with one final game, and I decided that it would be Concrete Genie since it was a shorter, focused game. I’ll admit that I didn’t play Pixelopus first game, Entwined, but since they introduced the world to Concrete Genie I’ve been anxious to finally get my hands on it.
Concrete Genie is the story about Ash, a teenage boy that loves to draw and paint. The game takes place in Denska, a town that used to have a big population sprawling with life. However, the town was overtaken by darkness, and everyone moved out.
A few kids stick around the city, however, and they’re pretty much known as the “bullies” of Denska since pretty much all they do is bully Ash. As the story unfolds, however, you get more details on them and why they behave the way they do.
The game starts off dark, yet hopeful as you get introduced to the world and the main character Ash. Because of the bullies, Ash loses all of his drawings and gets sent to the lighthouse in which there is a rumor of ghosts or deadly creatures.
When Ash arrives at the lighthouse he finds one of his paintings along with a giant paintbrush. The player quickly finds out along-side Ash that the painting has magical powers that can be used to bring paintings to life. Aside from that his paintings also give electricity and power to the lighthouse, and later on the town.
The game very much looks like a painting in itself too and almost looks a little stop-motion animated during cutscenes. It’s a very fitting style that the developer chose, and the graphics shine the best during photo mode. If you’ve drawn something you enjoy, you can enter photo mode for a “rewind feature” that replays your drawing as you drew it. It looks stunning.
The gameplay loop simply revolves around going through different areas and bringing them alive through your paintings, and while it might seem like a shallow premise… The game does an excellent job of utilizing Ash’s drawings, simply called “Genies”.
The genie is a big part of the game. For example, almost every puzzle involves them. They’re also the only friend Ash has, and thus they’re more or less the only one he interacts with during the majority of the game.
And simply by picking up the game, and getting to meet Luna, the first Genie, you’ll quickly realize how well Pixelopus have made these genies. If they didn’t nail them, the game would most likely be a bad product, but the fact that they’re charming, cute, funny, and overall well-made means that you love interacting with them.
You can design them in a lot of different ways, and you unlock more genies and design as you go on. By the end of the game, almost every environment I was walking in had 5-10 Genies, and paintings everywhere.
The genies are also great to just… Spend time with. You can paint it for them, and they get happy. They’ll also interact with some paintings, for example, all of the sudden my genie(s) started eating my apples. And after a while, one genie grabbed the apple and threw it in another genie’s face.
It’s small touches like that, that makes the genies such a great addition. Ash’s relationship to these “nameless paintings” also shines, as he discusses basically every single step of the way. (He talks as much with his drawings as Nathan Drake does with… Thin air I guess?)
The game isn’t a long one, however. I’m guessing the story could be completed in around 6 hours of playtime, and the platinum (100% completion) would take around 8-10 hours. My total playtime was around 9 hours, and I did everything possible – including unlocking the platinum trophy.
But even though the game is on the short side, it packs a lot of surprises and elements I didn’t expect. Without spoiling anything, there’s a moment during the mid-part of the game that made me very surprised and made me hopeful of Ash as a playable character in a certain crossover game I’ve been wishing for.
What the game does is basically introducing the player to an entirely new gameplay-concept that feels and plays amazingly. I was blown away at the tonal shift that took place, and how natural the transition was.
Sadly, everything isn’t perfect in the game. I had some minor issues that I felt affected the overall gaming-experience that led to me having some gripes with the game.
Mainly the camera during painting. Sometimes your objective is to draw around houses, it could be a long or tall building that you have to draw on. Or in certain cases, you’ll have to give electricity to all the lightbulbs in a certain amount of time. The camera goes from being super smooth in regular gameplay, to be very choppy and almost uncontrollable during the paint mode.
This made some areas annoying to finish, in particular Hydroelectric Plants in which you had to paint on a very broad building which the camera at points wasn’t quick enough for in my opinion.
I also stumbled upon some glitches that luckily was fixed by reloading the game. For example, during the (second) Hydroelectric Plants section of the game, I stumbled upon a cutscene glitch. In which the cutscene happened, I heard it, but my character just froze. Afterward, the game continued but I couldn’t do anything – while it was fixed by reloading my savefile – it kind of abrupted my experience during an intense part of the game, sadly.
I also stumbled upon a glitch that made me pretty stressed out, it was when I was hunting for the final two collectibles in the Waterways. The two collectibles needed the genies to be present, but after finishing the story the genies had disappeared from Level-2 of the waterways, in which the collectibles were.
Easily enough I should’ve been able to get the Genies into an elevator and send them down, but after trying for about an hour I gave up. Luckily, a simple reload of the save sent down 3 genies to Level-2 and I quickly got the final collectibles and the platinum trophy.
I also wished that Pixelopus gave even more exposition for the bullies, while they get a backstory and some details – I didn’t feel like I knew enough about them by the end of the game as I wished I had.
But by the end of the game, I loved it. I want it to be crystal clear that my gripes with the game are minor in the grand scheme of things. I loved the genies, I loved Ash, I loved Denska, etc.
When I finished the game, I had felt a large mix of emotions ranging from crying, laughing, and in general feeling a lot of tense feelings which is interesting since the game is pretty short and Ash in general only interacts with the genies (Which can’t talk).
And one thing that always gets a big positive from me, is when the game has a fun trophy list. Concrete Genie has a great trophy list, while it wants you to do everything it also invites you to try out a lot of things with your genies, photo mode, and general gameplay mechanics. It’s an exemplary trophy list that I enjoyed.
I can’t wait to see what Pixelopus work on next since they’re a small team that succeeds in creating an amazing game that feels on par with the overall PlayStation Studio games. While it isn’t as long or as technically deep as Naughty Dog or Santa Monica’s games, I still think that Pixelopus fills an important space for Sony.
I think that Ash is a great character that I hope to see more from, if not from a Concrete Genie sequel, I hope we see him make an appearance in a crossover-style game. For example, PlayStation All-Stars 2 or something like that. I think he’s likable, and I want to see more from him and the genies.