AAA titles with shiny new trailers and gameplay footage at E3 get most of the buzz, so it’s easy for the smaller indie games to get lost in the shuffle. But there's one indie game we have to talk about immediately: Concrete Genie. Created by developer Pixelopus and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment, Concrete Genie is an action adventure game about a young boy named Ash who uses his paintings to restore his hometown after it was ravaged by natural disaster, leaving it dark and desolate.
The gameplay consists of two main mechanics: painting and platforming. To restore the town to what it once was, the player must paint all over the walls of the abandoned buildings, which then illuminates the lights that are strung all over town. The player must illuminate all of the lights in each section before moving to the next area of the map.
This seems simple enough, but the challenge is introduced in the second zone with the bullies who roam the streets, and will give Ash trouble and take away his magic paintbrush if they catch him. Here is where the platforming comes in; the player can climb onto the rooftops of the buildings, where the bullies can't see Ash, and he can paint as he pleases. However, there are pages of his notebook flying around the map along the ground, and if Ash can catch them, he has access to different brushes to paint with.
Moving around the map feels great, and the controls are tight and responsive. Beside climbing up the buildings Uncharted style and jumping from roof to roof, there are also zip lines connecting the rooftops that add verticality and speed. The painting feels intuitive as well; you use the motion sensor in the controller to move the brush around, and hold down right trigger to paint. As someone who normally despises motion controls, I was pleasantly surprised at how natural it felt and how easy it was to use. The brushes all do different things and respond to the controls slightly differently, which I had a lot of fun playing around with.
And then there’s the game's titular element: the genies. These are creatures that Ash brings to life by painting them on the walls. If he provides them with a painting they like, they will help him through the area by completing various tasks like opening doors or providing access to objects needed to complete a puzzle. Each genie even has a different personality based on how the player paints them. I couldn’t help but smile after one encouraged me to play basketball and then gave me a high five when I made the shot. It was little details like that that really charmed me, such as the cats that roam the streets and help you find areas where you left lights unlit.
Of all of the demos I tried at E3, Concrete Genie was a definite standout for me. With its wildly creative concept, stunning visuals, and fluid gameplay, it was an absolute joy. The story encourages themes of creativity and freedom, and playing the game only reinforced that for me. Even in the shadow of such gargantuan titles like The Last of Us Part II and Spider-Man, Concrete Genie still shines brightly. If smaller, more artsy games are your thing, or even if they’re not, it’s one to keep an eye out for. Concrete Genie is set to release exclusively on PS4 later this year.
Images: Sony Interactive Entertainment