Art can give people life but few games take that as literally as CONCRETE GENIE. Pixelopus is stepping far away from its underwhelming debut, Entwined, to create a game all about, well, creating. From creating lively murals to creating adorable monstrosities with seven horns and four tails, Concrete Genie is a relaxing experience that won’t quite test your puzzle solving skills or patience but it will give you an urban canvas and a decent amount of creative control over it.
That canvas is Denska, a broken down port town that is long past its glory days. Ash, the title’s protagonist, finds himself on this nostalgic landmass of neglect painting to pass the time and reminisce about the good ol’ days. After an unfortunate encounter with some bullies, he finds himself in possession of a magical paintbrush that does more than touch up some of the weathered corners on the porch. Using this newfound tool, he seeks out to purge out the Denska’s corruption in more ways than one.
Concrete Genie Review | Brushing away the darkness
Denska is a small, but open town that yields different patterns and Genie features that you can plaster around its walls at will using its intuitive painting mechanics. But even though the game does have a completely free-form extra mode, campaign progression is dictated by finding specific light bulbs and painting around them. These usually open up new areas and puzzles that open up new areas and puzzles.
Concrete Genie has a certain pattern to it but how you color within those lines is mostly up to you. And even that is going to be decided by how much you want to do within those guidelines. Letting your inner Picasso freely flow is probably what Pixelopus wants players to do, given the amount of different buildings you can paint on and the number of collectible sketches you can pick up. Yet, it’s very possible to the bare minimum and make this game’s version of macaroni art that’s hardly worth putting next to the fridge, let alone on it. And even if the game probably doesn’t want you to aim as low as possible, you can and there’s beauty in that.
That beauty may not be for everyone though. Repeating the same steps of illuminating light bulbs and solving puzzles does get a bit repetitive and is where some players might begin to begin phoning it in. There’s only so many times you can paint a wall before feeling like you’ve already done it, despite an ever-growing notebook of patterns to try out. In the beginning, I was making elaborate masterpieces before I eventually found myself doing just what was necessary to move on. Painting doesn’t drag down the experience — it is the experience — but it’s hard to repeatedly muster up the will to gin up magnum opus after magnum opus when you have the freedom to do it so often. It never loses its charm but regularity does dull it.
Concrete Genie Review | Not so puzzling puzzles
Some of these paintings aren’t quite puzzles but puzzle-adjacent, meaning you have to paint specific objects to please Genies so they can give you the Super Paint you need to clear the corruption that’s blocking your path. While it matches the game’s easygoing vibe, there’s not much challenge in going through these motions. Solutions are usually incredibly obvious thanks to its clear design and simple setups but also its constant pop ups that instantly try to point you in the right direction.
Not having more intense puzzles that thoughtfully utilize the game’s mechanics feels like a missed opportunity. Guiding any of the three elemental Genies around also has potential but usually just boils down to standing next to an object and waiting for them to shock, burn, or use wind to blow it away. It’s more about doing the work than doing the thinking and that lets the game move at a steady clip but not in a way that inventively stretches the mechanics.
This might have likely been by design as leisurely painting seems to be its main goal. Controls are fluid as moving the DualShock 4 around, allowing would-be artists a finer amount of control. Even though stick controls are in the options, motion controls work well here since it’s just a glorified laser pointer; something the controller can easily handle. Moving your character while painting is as fluid as it should be, which extends to the platformer controls that are functional enough to work within the game’s lenient boundaries and not cause frustration. Concrete Genie always tries to keep you moving forward and bad controls would undoubtedly cause players to put down the brush.
Concrete Genie Review | Healing and finding redemption through art
The game uses this motif of art to craft a story that’s about more than painting. Trashing his equipment and throwing him in dumpsters, Ash has to not only save Denska from its tragic fate but also himself from bullies that are causing juvenile havoc around the town. Its attempts to use these preteen nuisances to speak about bullying lack subtlety — all of the kids basically have the same expected backstory — but it is a topic that deserves attention. Predictability doesn’t warrant glossing over what it’s trying to say since it serves as an effective reinforcement of its themes of collaboration and giving back.
Genies are the polar and positive opposites to those menacing kids and actively help you toward your goal. These customizable beasts live within the walls and follow you around, begging to be played and interacted with. Animal-like qualities make them quite cute, even if you make them look like nightmarish hellspawns, and it’s endearing to see them play with your paintings or with each other in their own little 2D world. Team Ico’s legendary companions were obviously inspirations and even if these Genies don’t come close to that status, they’re still worthy companions to have.
But Genies can go rogue is where the game shifts from using the paintbrush as a tool of art to a tool of destruction. After getting the ability to quickly glide across the ground, dodge, and fire ranged bolts, its overall pace picks up and is like an adrenaline shot of much-needed variety. Skating around and dodging incoming fire while casting your own spells is a decent counterbalance to the breezy painting and is a solid mechanical way to explore its themes using different means. Like the platforming, combat feels relatively good and while it won’t be competing with other action games, it’s more than sufficient for the game it is in. Pixelopus knew what kind of game this was and made controls that worked well within its boundaries.
The studio seemed to make the whole game within its boundaries as Concrete Genie is a title that appears as though it did everything the team wanted it to do. It’s a chill experience where players can freely paint the town, create some pleasant beasts, and engage in a predictable but welcome story that’s about using art to cleanse demons. Nothing is particularly extraordinary nor is any one aspect less than solid but there’s a commitment to the vision here that had modest and realistic goals. Concrete Genie paints within its humble parameters and still makes a lovely piece of art even if it isn’t The Starry Night.
GameRevolution reviewed Concrete Genie on PS4 with a code provided by the publisher.