Semispheres is a brand new and enjoyable puzzle game available for Playstation 4 and PC’s running Steam. We played the console version – here’s our review.
Nearly all of the great puzzle games have one thing in common: they are based around a simple concept, and are able to design fiendishly difficult puzzles around it. Ideally, the game will also ease you into things by slowly explaining the mechanics and increasing the complexity of the puzzles step by step. Semispheres has all these ingredients, and offers them up with a unique concept on the genre.
In Semispheres, puzzles are played from a top-down view of the playing field. Further complicating matters is that at the start of each level, the screen gets split between two versions of the same level – two dimensions in which the level exists, so to speak. You control an orb in each of the dimensions (or parallel worlds) using the thumbsticks, and your job is to make sure both of them find their way towards the exit.
Early on, this can be done by luring enemies away using sonar pings (one of the pickups that can be found), but pretty soon you’ll discover that there are ways in which the two views of the level can interact with one another. One powerup will allow you to punch a (viewing) hole through the levels, which gives you the opportunity to ‘ping’ enemies on the other side of the screen and lure them away from your buddy – which is just one of many examples.
This may sound complex on paper, but Semispheres is a very intuitive game that does a great job of introducing new game mechanics gradually. The game is divided into thirteen acts, each with three to five levels to tackle and each act ending with a visual that is meant to convey something of a story – though this felt tacked on to me and sometimes hard to follow. In terms of the puzzles themselves, things don’t get too complex until you reach the second half of the game – when most of the core mechanics and power-ups have been introduced.
Power-ups range from the aforementioned sonar pings to the ability to trade places with your ‘sphere buddy’ or to bring him over to your side of the screen. The same abilities can (with a different power-up) also be unleashed on your enemies, and that’s still not the full extent of what Semispheres has to offer. As a game that’s designed to be intuitive, it might take a few minutes to truly figure out what each power-up does, but the overall learning curve is a pleasant one.
Every now and then I’d solve a puzzle thinking “this can’t be what they meant”, so I’ll have to go back and see if some puzzles have multiple solutions. Most of them definitely don’t, so the replay value here is limited. For a game that costs less than 10 dollars/euros though, this can hardly be considered an issue. I’d rather focus on the fact that, presentation-wise, Semispheres offers a nice blend of minimalist game design and colorful, detailed visuals where each parallel world has its own color scheme for an experience that is both effective and nice to look at.
If you enjoy puzzle games that tax your brain without relying on the lightning quick reflexes that some puzzle platformers ask of you, then Semispheres is a perfect choice. It’s a bit like Kalimba, yet still unique.