SA’s first Nintendo game Semblence is a winner

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Semblance by Nyamakop
Microsoft Windows, OS X and Nintendo Switch
Price: $9.99 on Nintendo Switch and
R109 on Steam
4 stars

Ihad heard rumours earlier this year of South Africa’s first game on a Nintendo console, but I didn’t take it seriously. After all, Nintendo has been around since the 80s and not a single African-developed game has ever cracked the nod.

Playing the innovative Semblance over the past month, I must admit that I started the game with little enthusiasm. I decided to let the kettle boil as I took a first look at the game. Three hours later and I was still sitting on the side of my bed, the kettle had boiled and its water gone cold while I was fully engrossed in the malleable world of Squish, the silent but energetic main character of Semblance.

I’ve never encountered so many ways to manipulate the playing areas of a 2-D puzzle-platform game, from creating dents in the wall to using the ground as a trampoline and smashing the hanging bases to create a higher jumping base. And they were all kinds of fun.

The game starts with a green alien-like virus that infects the Semblance world, which has a swampy, jungle/forest feel. Trees that were inspired by the baobab act as anchor points for the various levels. Each tree has a number of orbs that need to be collected. To collect each orb you and Squish have to figure out how to manipulate your environment – in some cases even flatten Squish – to get the orb.

With the four basic controls – jump, dash, reset area and jump higher – you have all the tools to solve each puzzle, which as you get deeper into the jungle takes a bit of ingenuity and lateral thinking. Precision and timing is crucial in this play dough world. It takes a bit of time to master, but just when you think the game is yours to rule it ends. The shortness of the game and the lack of any major story arc kind of puts a damper on the whole package.

Developed in the halls of Wits University in 2015 by Cukia Kimani and Ben Myres, the game’s shapeable mechanics were found out by mistake. While testing the early mechanics of the game, Kimani found a glitch that saw Squish bend the side wall and he was overcome by anxiety. On the other hand, Myres thought it was cool and together they found a way to incorporate that and even make it the starting concept of the game.

Crystalline leaf-shaped areas infused with lasers and random buzzing creatures have to be avoided by any and all means. If you do crash into these items the game resets the puzzle, but keeps all the environmental changes you’ve made, which is a huge relief when the puzzles get more complicated. There are unlimited respawns of Squish, which allow you to experiment freely.

This simple, minimalistic and short game will not provide you with days and days of endless fun, but it will keep you smiling from beginning to end, even if that’s only for a few hours.

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