Platforming is a genre that has limitless potential, and whenever that genre seems to start to stagnate, there’s always that one game that kicks it back into gear; Semblance by Nyamakop is that game.
I got to chat with Ben Myres of Nyamakop as I played through his team’s first creation as a studio. Semblance takes place in a world where all of its inhabitants and environments are made of a pliable, putty-like substance. One day a plague breaks out across the land, transforming the landscape into a hard, crystalline matter. Not wanting to let this become the new status quo, mother nature gives birth to our playable hero: a piece of the ground, a.k.a an amorphous blob with eyes.
Your job as the savior of the land is to collect energy orbs in each level that will drive back the crystallization. You accomplish this with your standard jumps and dashes seen in other platformers, but Semblance’s claim to fame is the ability to manipulate your environment. Since everything is made out of a soft, squishy material, you can jump and slam into it to raise platforms, depress the ground, make little cubbies in walls, and more. You’re forming the world into a “semblance” of what you desire it to be, if you will.
The story of how this environment manipulating idea came to be is an interesting one in that the concept was originally the result of a programming bug. The initial plan for the game was to have a shape-shifting character that could use its powers to navigate the world in compelling ways. At some point, though, a bug was discovered when hitting a certain platform from below, causing it to rise. While this caused the Nyamakop team some amount of confusion, it also served as their inspiration as they decided to take that concept and implement it as the full game. Just goes to show mistakes aren’t always a bad thing.
Shaping the landscape is a simple enough mechanic and its use becomes apparent very quickly. After getting the basics of molding down, the game soon throws lasers at you. Depending on the situation you may want to raise a platform high enough to block the laser or deform the space near the laser’s source to redirect its path entirely. Redirecting two lasers into each other will even cancel them out, clearing out a path that would be otherwise uncrossable. The puzzles progress in such a way that the player organically gains skills through experimentation and play, rather than flat out saying “this is what you can do and this is what you can’t do,” which is a respect for the player’s intelligence that I very much appreciated.
Something else I appreciated is how the game’s difficulty would somewhat mold to your own playstyle. There was one part of a level where I had to make a jump in-between two crystalline spikes onto a very small patch of safe land to reach an orb. I was able to pull off the jump but quickly realized I could have made my life a lot easier if I had simply raised that safe spot up from the bottom before-hand. It’s options like these that Ben said he and his team wanted to provide the player in order to accommodate many play-styles.
The game then went on to add other elements such as beams that would revert any land they touch to their original shape, or surfaces meant for wall-jumping by creating some well-placed dents. Each mechanic naturally builds upon itself, and it’s when a puzzle incorporates multiple of them that get the brain juices really flowing.
Semblance is one of those games that takes a simple mechanic and runs with it. In my short time playing it I can already see just how vast and creative the problems it can throw at you can be and the equally vast and creative solutions that can be created to solve them. It’s a passion project conceptualized as the developers were graduating university and that passion shines through. If you’re attending PAX East this weekend, Semblance is a game to look out for.
Semblance is in development for Steam and Nintendo Switch.