Review: 'Semispheres' (Switch)

A view of video game 'Semispheres'. A view of video game 'Semispheres'. VIVID HELIX

A few months back, I had a delightful time playing Embers of Mirrim on PlayStation 4. It was a beautiful, engaging, and brain-breaking puzzle game that had the player manipulating both control sticks in order to solve each puzzle encounter. I couldn't help but think of this game as I was playing Semispheres, not just because of how the games are similar, but because of how incredibly different they are at the same time.

Semispheres is also a twin-stick puzzler, but one that takes on a very simplistic style while dialing up the puzzle difficulty. It doesn't do as much as I would like, but what game is there is done decently well.

The presentation feels somewhat like what you would expect from a mobile puzzle game. You simply control two spheres, one blue and one orange, in a flat blue and orange world; the blue sphere is controlled with the left analog stick, and the orange sphere is controlled with the right one. They exist in two side-by-side worlds, and each sphere has to get to their respective end portal in order to complere the level, but this is made more difficult by other guard spheres that can instantly send them back to the start. Each sphere has the ability to cross over to the other sphere's world in limited ways, which forms the basis of the game's puzzles.

As you complete levels, you'll slowly be given comic strips detailing the game's minimal story, about a boy growing up with his beloved robot companion. This was a nice little addition to the game, though it was difficult to see how it related to the gameplay, and I wasn't that pleased with the payoff at the end. It's a nice way of delivering story, but I didn't find it that compelling. That was sort of a problem throughout the game, honestly; my desire to keep playing, to finish just one more puzzle, wasn't as strong as it was for games like Mirrim. There's no engaging world to sate your curiosity; what you see in the first level is, to a certain extent, what you'll see in every level after. I would have liked something a bit more to keep me going.

As the game goes on, you'll be given access to progressively more abilities to help you solve puzzles. You can make a noise to alert guards and lure them places, you can place a peephole into the other sphere's world in order to distract their guards, you can have the spheres swap places, you can lay down warp lines that transport a sphere from one place to another instantly, and more. They're introduced at a steady pace, and they do a good job of keeping you from getting bored with the game's mechanics up until the very end.

The puzzles themselves are well designed for the most part, but the difficulty curve is oddly inconsistent; up until the end, I felt like the game was bouncing back and forth between easy and hard puzzles. Some are tutorial puzzles, which can be forgiven, but that's not the extent of it. Some puzzles will have you scratching your head for several minutes, while other levels that come immediately after only give you a single possible sequence of options, which isn't exactly a brain-buster of a puzzle. It's toughest when you have to move both spheres at the same time, because my brain is not very good at that, but these don't happen very much until the end. Really, I didn't feel like I was having that much fun until level 15 or so, which is where the puzzles start cranking things up and really making you think; after that point I started having a much better time.

Also, I completely cheesed the first puzzle of group X. I don't know how many other puzzles have solutions the developers didn't intend, as I could only find the one, but I just wanted to make a note of that. It's not like the developers were missing details left and right.

The game's presentation is fairly nice. Visually it is very minimalist, but there's nothing wrong with that if the game's pleasant to look at, which this is. You don't have a standard menu screen; you move your two spheres physically from one puzzle to the next in order to progress through the game. This is pretty cool, but I also don't see how I am able to go back and select a puzzle I've already solved, which the game doesn't allow me to do. There is a "select level" option in the pause menu, but this simply unlocks the next level in your current group of levels, which is really weird. The music is also pretty minimalist, but it's fine. It's very ambient, often punctuated by the sound of spheres making noise or teleporting or what have you.

For $10, it's hard to say how much replay value is here. I beat the whole game in a couple of hours, and there's no incentive for me to go back and do it again. A game like Embers of Mirrim offers you secrets to discover, enticing you to play through the game multiple times, but there's no such luck here. The first play through is fine, though, and you still get more bang for your buck than a movie ticket, so your mileage may vary. I don't think a puzzle game like this needs to be that replayable anyway.

There isn't much to Semispheres, but what is there is solid. It's pleasant to look at and listen to, and when you solve a particularly difficult puzzle you feel like your brain is huge. It's a short ride, but it's satisfying while it's there, aside from some weird difficulty pacing. If you find yourself intrigued by this review, or if you were intrigued already, give this a try and you'll probably have a good time.

Final score: 7 out of 10

A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of review.

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