Sony is known for its massive AAA exclusives and while they’re gearing up to release a new one next month, don’t let their new, smaller exclusive fall off your radar. In a sea of “sad dad simulators” from PlayStation, Concrete Genie paints a beautiful picture of positivity.
Concrete Genie follows a lonely boy named Ash who doodles to drown out all the issues in the world around him. Ash lives in a rundown and polluted town robbed of life and filled with bullies but after a series of events, he’s given a magic paintbrush that can breathe new life into the mostly deserted town of Denska.
With this new tool, the young artist can create portraits of brimming fields of sunshine and flowers or unique monsters that bring happiness rather than scares. Concrete Genie is a game about solving issues not with conflict or violence but purity and imagination. It’s a wholesome message and one that’s needed in a world that is severely lacking this kind of purity.
This month and next month, a number of M-rated titles about ripping demons in half, blowing up villages, and shooting every person in sight will be released. Concrete Genie counters that with something unique and refreshing.
That said, the gameplay is simplistic and for some, that might be less than ideal. You’re largely focused on steering yourself away from bullies by fleeing their sight or distracting them so you can paint key areas. The way I often saw it was how in Ubisoft games, you have to liberate areas as a side objective. Concrete Genie makes that the main and almost only objective where it almost feels like a collect-athon at a certain point.
You are doing the same thing over and over again but you have some input. Every area you paint, you get to choose what you paint from a pre-determined set of what are basically stencils that you’ve collected along the way. It’s a bit boring as there’s very little creativity from the player themselves, you can’t truly make your own unique creations which is a bit upsetting in a game so focused on art. It’s limited and restrictive, the opposite of what art is supposed to be. Art is freeing.
Mix in some very easy environmental puzzles and you’re met with a largely very repetitive and simple gameplay experience. Yes it has charm and yes it’s great at first but the novelty quickly wears off to the point of you becoming bored. It doesn’t pace its innovations and mechanics well so that when really crazy cool stuff begins to happen toward the end of the game, you’re almost completely thrown off guard.
It’s exciting but you’re also thinking “Where the hell was this bonkers stuff several hours ago?” It packs a punch by the end but Concrete Genie takes far too long to wind up that punch.
Developer PixelOpus still manages to keep you engaged with its narrative even when the gameplay falters. As mentioned, it’s pure and wholesome but incredibly powerful and beautiful. Out of fear of spoiling anything as the game is relatively breezy and short, there are moments that cause you to sit there and just soak it all up. It demands attention for all of the beauty you’ve created and it’s nothing short of wonderful.
Even though Concrete Genie frequently fails to meet the heights of its gameplay potential, it’s the kind of game that I’m glad Sony is pushing as a small but strong exclusive for PS4. It sets itself apart from all the other games coming this fall both in its sense of positivity and lush beauty making it a welcome pallet cleanser.
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