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Hands-On With Concrete Genie

Concrete Genie has become one of my most anticipated PlayStation 4 games this year. PixelOpus’ title is a wonderful depiction of how art has the ability to positively impact one’s life. Concrete Genie takes unconventional gameplay mechanics and spins it into a tale about overcoming adversity and expressing one’s creative side.

PixelOpus unveiled their latest game during 2017’s Paris Games Week in 2017. After a strong showing, the studio went dark for quite some time. I had begun to feel concerned if the relatively new studio had found themselves over their head or needed to recalibrate their vision. It wasn’t until this year that we saw the Sony kick things into overdrive and we watched as the marketing begin to unfold. Sony released a powerful narrative trailer during their State of Play show back in July announcing that Concrete Genie was well on its way with an October 8th release date confirmed. I spent a bit of hands-on time with the game during Fan Expo Canada and can easily say that Concrete Genie is not one to miss this fall.

The game centers around Ash, a young boy, who finds solace in drawing and doodling in his notebook. He resides in a dreary and lifeless town called Denska. Ash is not a popular child, he has his nose in his notebook most of the time and finds himself to be a bit of an outsider. A group of kids begin bullying Ash, stealing his prized notebook, and begin ripping his beloved pages and sketches out. Distraught, Ash must now track down those missing pages. It’s not before long that Ash discovers a magical paintbrush that allows his art to come to life. Quickly, Ash is now able to use his designs to fill Denska with new life and restore his notebook in the process.

Creativity is at the forefront of Concrete Genie. As Ash, you’ll be able to paint unique designs across the town to solve puzzles and advance from area to area. The beautiful part of it all is that you’re able to make these designs yours. With the DualShock 4 controller, you can choose designs, swap them out, and incorporate other elements into a canvas on the brick wall of the store. In the demo, you come across a critter from Ash’s notebook. He is now animated on a wall and you must help him advance.

Once you meet your new friendly beast, you have the option to add to his design. My monster could very well look different and portray different personality traits than yours. Admittedly, my design was very Frankenstein-esque with tendrils coming out every which way. As you finish, he comes to life before your very eyes and begins to walk across the wall. You’re also able to create a backdrop with grass, trees, and other pieces of graffiti. The designs created in my demo are unlikely to be fully replicated because of how much freedom the game offers. Using the DualShock 4’s motion controls you can aim your paintbrush and select the different designs from a catalogue of items. As you play, you’ll unlock new designs and more importantly, new add-ons for your monster.

Your choice of designs doesn’t necessarily impact the way the game plays out. This is where Concrete Genie really lets your creativity shine. Whether you paint a field of grass or a line of trees, whether simple or elaborate, you’re still rejuvenating Denska and advancing. If you’re feeling creative, you can go that extra mile to create the perfect mural, or go for the bare minimum to get your beast to the next area. It’s kind of like an episode of Bob Ross’s The Joy of Painting. PixelOpus wants you to get from point A to point B but encourages you to put your own spin on it and have fun while you’re doing so.

The other aspect that really stuck out to me is that the story revolves around a bullied child. In most games, when you’re faced with an adversary or group that challenges you as a player, the game has you push through with brute strength or makes you use your wits to sidestep them, avoiding any altercation. Concrete Genie falls more on the latter side of this. It doesn’t appear that at any point your beast is going to leap out of the wall and bite a bully’s head off. Instead, the demo sees Ash avoiding the bullies at all costs. He’s in no position to fight the group of kids, nor shows any signs of wanting to. He simply wants to find his missing pages and continue his passion for drawing. I’m very interested to see how PixelOpus treats the subject of bullies and overcoming those circumstances. We’ve all been in Ash’s position at some point in our lives and it’s a subject that is sometimes forgotten about in the medium of video games.

Concrete Genie is a creative game at heart and offers a number of puzzles and platforming aspects to the player. The taste I got during the demo was brief, but I am excited to see how it progresses and challenges the player in creative ways as the story unfolds.

We don’t have long to wait now. Concrete Genie is set to launch on October 4th for PS4. Get your paintbrushes ready and those creative juices flowing!

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Steve is based in Toronto, Ontario. His enthusiasm and adoration of the video game industry go back to the days of SNES. Find him on Twitter and join in on the escapades.

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